Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico was in Seattle yesterday, making his case to various constituent groups and power brokers. In between a speech before WA State Democratic Party committee members and a series of meetings with labor officials, he squeezed in a half-hour to sit down with me and some of my fellow local bloggers… a much appreciated opportunity to speak face-to-face with one of the many qualified candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for President.
In fact, if you look at his resume and experience, Richardson is arguably the most qualified candidate running from either Party — a sitting governor, former UN Ambassador and Secretary of Energy, who also served seven terms in the US House of Representatives. He has the administrative experience required of our nation’s top executive, and the legislative know-how to work with the folks on Capitol Hill. And at a time when our nation’s global prestige has ebbed to an all time low, he has the diplomatic skills and track record to patch up relations at home and abroad.
If Richardson could successfully negotiate with the North Koreans, he can certainly deal with the homegrown variety of warmongering crazies who sit across the aisle.
I’ve admired Richardson for years, and would be proud to elect him our nation’s first President of color. (His mother is Mexican.) And after having the opportunity to talk with him about energy, transportation, immigration, habeas corpus, health care and the Iraq war with a specificity few other candidates seem willing to engage in these days, I came away from our meeting more impressed than ever.
But, I remain uncommitted.
And therein lies the rub for Richardson, John Edwards and other Democratic hopefuls trying to break the lock Senators Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton seem to have on frontrunner status. The very grassroots and netroots activists Richardson might rely upon to generate the kind of buzz and excitement necessary to shift the playing field, at least locally, seem frozen in indecision.
Partially this is due to an embarrassment of riches… a diverse field of qualified candidates who, from an electoral perspective, nearly all stack up well against any Republican nominee. And partially this is due to, well… Al Gore.
Perhaps spoiled by last November’s big blue wave, I, like many of my blogger friends, remain on the sidelines wishing and waiting for a Gore candidacy. As much as I admire Richardson and the rest of the Democratic field, a President Gore would be immensely more satisfying in so many ways: ideologically, intellectually, emotionally and symbolically. A President Gore would be a signal to the rest of the world that America regrets the previous eight years, and would be the ultimate redemption for the man who won the 2000 popular vote and was possibly cheated out of the White House.
There are only two problems: 1) Al Gore is not running for President; and 2) he refuses to say that he won’t.
The result is to freeze supporters like me, and in so doing freeze the status quo in the race for the Democratic nomination. Slowly, the Gore faithful are flowing in dribs and drabs to the other candidates, but his refusal to definitively say “No” prevents us from unreservedly investing our passion and enthusiasm elsewhere.
We all expect that if Gore were to suddenly enter the race, the current dynamics — essentially a showdown between Obama and Clinton — would instantly change. By if done soon enough, the dynamics could also change if Gore were to announce that he would absolutely not seek the nomination. Such an announcement would be an opportunity for one or more candidates to pick up the enthusiastic support of a wave of party insiders and grassroots activists who have thus far remained on the sidelines. If effectively exploited, it could be an opportunity to catapult a Richardson or Edwards into the top tier.
But as long as Gore remains publicly ambivalent about his own presidential ambitions, he makes it virtually impossible for the second and third tier challengers to dramatically move up the field.
This is a clever strategy if Gore in fact expects to seek the nomination, as it prevents other challengers from gaining traction. But if in his heart of hearts Gore really has no plans to run, then he owes it to his supporters, his party and his nation to make his intentions absolutely clear, so that this race can play out as it will. I cannot speak to the rumor that Gore’s interest in running is in part fueled by his discomfort with the notion of a Clinton nomination, but I do believe that the unfulfilled prospect of a Gore candidacy makes Clinton’s nomination more likely.
In the meanwhile the current dynamics of the race, and the nature of how our media covers it, leaves capable, qualified candidates like Richardson flying way too far below the radar. Yesterday Richardson, the half-Mexican governor of a border state, emphatically came out against the compromise immigration bill, much to the consternation of Democratic leaders in Congress. And yesterday Richardson, the candidate with by far the most extensive foreign policy credentials, came out strongly in opposition to the supplemental Iraq war funding bill, bluntly stating that Congress should simply de-authorize the war. If either Obama or Clinton had stated similar opposition with similar language and specificity, it would have made headlines. But because Richardson is not considered a top-tier candidate, and because he has no swarm of bloggers to echo and champion him, the average voter has little familiarity with the positions of the candidate who probably has the best resume for the job.
If the netroots really want this race to be about issues, rather than just about personalities, we’re eventually going to have to stop waiting for Gore.