Monday, December 31, 2007

First Person Accounts--of Bill Richardson

Yesterday, I said that I was surprisingly impressed by Joe Biden during his local campaign stop here in small-town western Iowa. Today I reflect how Bill Richardson's visit convinced me that he was not the man for the job.

I couldn't miss the Richardson visit. A friend of mine from church called earlier in the day to invite me. She knows Richardson because she opened a branch of her successful business in New Mexico a few years ago. Richardson himself apparently wooed her to New Mexico and helped her avail herself of multiple tax breaks for new businesses. She has had at least one fundraiser for him at her palatial home in the Loess Hills. (I wasn't invited. We're not that close. Oh, and I'm poor.)

So on September 3rd she hosted a campaign event for him in town in the parking lot of her business. She had it catered. Half-pound burgers sizzled on the grill. She arranged for a horse and saddle for him to ride in on. But the crowd was thin, maybe 25 people--counting my two young children.

Richardson has a low-key, regular guy style. But I wouldn't quite call it a comfortable style. He seems like he's winging it. All the pauses and stumbling made me feel uncomfortable--for him. While he spoke, my 5 year old son and 9 year old daughter played football in the parking lot around the corner. My friend kept checking around the other corner to see if anyone else was coming.

Richardson recounted the items on his resume. He spoke about the progress they have made in New Mexico--including the tax cuts for businesses that attracted my friend. He told the old story about meeting with Saddam Hussein--the one where he crossed his legs and offended Hussein but refused to apologize. He talked about the huge budget deficit, saying that it's not right that the Bush tax cuts are going to have to be paid off by, "this young boy right here." He was pointing at my daughter, who had wandered back from the parking lot. She doesn't look like a boy. But in Richardson's defence, this night she was dressed in athletic shorts and was holding a football.

[more on the flip side]

I asked Richardson about health care. I said that I thought that our current system penalizes businesses and discourages new start-ups. His answer on health care was to offer more tax breaks. I was stunned. I couldn't tell the difference between his answer and any Republican's.

But none of these short-comings and fax pas were the primary reasons I walked away unimpressed. It was his demeanor. Typically I have often thought that I would like a candidate who seems like a 'real guy' and speaks 'off-the-cuff'. Looking 'Presidential' is a concern for the Republican primaries. But I have to tell you, it was like I was watching Horatio Sanz stumble though a skit on SNL. And I mean at the end of a show where they don't really give a crap anymore. (Just did some checking. Sanz has already played Richardson. Guess I'm not the first to see the resemblance.) Out of fairness, I should point out that Richardson was not having a good day. He was clearly tired. Earlier in the same day he made the well-remembered comment that Iowa has both divine and constitutional reasons to be the first caucus.

All that said. I'm not strongly against Richardson. I just don't think he made the case for his presidency. My 71 year old dad likes Richardson. I've heard a number of older people (sorry Blue Girl) say they like his experience and/or his style. As I will argue later in the week, I am not impressed by someone who wants to be president as a way to complete their resume. And, if the resume is to be his argument, I would like to have seen more substantial accomplishments. He would be a good choice for Vice President for Clinton; but I don't think that he would add the kind of gravitas that Obama would need for his ticket. Unlike Biden or Dodd, he is from a swing state, and could make a difference in the Southwest.

Tomorrow (or Wednesday): John Edwards--and some thoughts on why he seems to be surging in Iowa.