Bill Richardson came to New York looking for cash, and at least a little recognition.
“I’m raising money to be respectable,” he said on the night of March 26, as he leaned against his black Chevy Suburban wearing a blue suit, striped red tie and an exhausted look on his face. “I know that I can’t compete with Senators Clinton and Obama. I’m not a rock star. But I think my fund-raising totals will be respectable.”
The stocky, voluble governor of New Mexico had just finished a grueling day of stump speeches and political pitches to donors in six separate private fund-raisers around town. He capped that off with a speech, and then an hour-long question-and-answer session in a packed West Side bar full of young Democratic professionals. The next day, he had six more fund-raisers. On Wednesday, he was booked to appear on The Daily Show.
Mr. Richardson, whose long and impressive résumé in government and foreign affairs has earned him enough attention to gain him thinking-man’s-dark-horse status in the crowded field of Democratic nominees, is working hard to break into the elite club of front-runners, which includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.
He served 15 years in Congress before acting as Energy Secretary in the Clinton administration and turning in a generally admired stint as U.N. ambassador. He is the first major Hispanic Presidential candidate, and his two terms as governor of traditionally Republican New Mexico are another asset—especially because, as he informed the young crowd sipping pints of ale Monday night, “We elect governors in this country.”
At the crammed event organized by Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century, a group of politically active professionals, Mr. Richardson reminded his audience several times that, as a foreign-policy envoy in Iraq and the Sudan, and as a governor, he had participated in the major events of the day while his rivals were onlookers, busy obsessing about the nuances of their Senate votes on Iraq. “A lot of candidates talk about voting a certain way, and ‘This is my position,’” he said. “I’ve done it. I’ve brought countries together.”
An hour later, after patiently answering the questions of a local cable-television channel and a couple of bloggers pointing camcorders in his face, Mr. Richardson said, “I need resources to tell the story.”
That, of course, is the hard part for a second-tier Presidential candidate in New York, where most of the major bundlers have been located and enlisted by Mrs. Clinton, whose aggressive fund-raising operation discourages donors from giving to multiple candidates.
“I don’t think that’s right,” he said. “I think the American voter or funder deserves to have a viable contest. So I appeal to funders that say, ‘I’m for Senator Clinton,’ and I say, ‘O.K., that’s fine. But make me your second choice. Help me out too.’
“I respect Senator Clinton’s record and her ability to raise money,” he added, “but I just hope the American people don’t vote on who has the most resources.”
He has good reason to feel that way. “You look at those four”—Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Richardson—“and it’s almost embarrassing, because he is clearly the most qualified to be President,” said Larry Sabato, a political-science professor at the University of Virginia. “It has got to bother him that people with far less experience seem to be dominating the landscape. Richardson hasn’t made an impression on people.”
Mr. Richardson’s most pressing task, for now, is to post a respectable enough March 31 financial filing to keep things looking at least plausible.
To that end, Peter Davidson, president of the Davidson Media Group, which owns several Spanish-language radio stations, hosted a fund-raiser on March 27 for Mr. Richardson in a midtown office. About two dozen people, many from the Hispanic media and investment community, attended the event.
Mr. Davidson said that the fund-raising goal of the Richardson campaign was “probably a 20th of what Hillary’s is,” and added: “I certainly realize he is way behind in polls and name recognition and money and everything.”
Mr. Davidson nevertheless said that Mr. Richardson possessed other attributes that his rivals lacked.
“You have people for Clinton who don’t have a lot of passion,” he said. “Obama certainly has plenty of enthusiasm, but he was a State Senator two years ago. Bill Richardson, when you really look at him, has the experience.”
Matt Gohd, a managing director at Pali Capital and a veteran political donor, said that he expected to raise about $50,000 for Mr. Richardson before the filing deadline. He, too, hosted an event this week for Mr. Richardson, drawing about 20 lawyers and investors to meet the candidate in his office.
“If it is about capability, we win,” said Mr. Gohd, sounding exactly like the governor. “If it’s about history, obviously Hillary Clinton is formidable.”
On Monday night, as the wait staff of Zanzibar looked on in tight black clothes from behind a fluorescent-lit bar, Mr. Richardson stood on the stage and somewhat deliberately offered meaty policy answers to questions ranging from health care, taxes and civil unions to the war in Iraq and relations with Iran and North Korea.
As 10 p.m. approached, someone asked a question too quietly for the people in the back of the room to hear.
“She said, how am I gonna win?—which is a source of some interest to me too,” said Mr. Richardson. He answered by talking about the high Hispanic populations in California and Texas, which are considering moving their primaries up, and said that he hopes to benefit from the frustrations of independent-minded Democratic voters in the first four primary states.
“The voters in these small states resent the fact that two candidates have already been crowned,” Mr. Richardson said. “And the rest, you know—we’re sort of chopped liver.”