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Obama Draws Backing from Ex-Rival Richardson

March 21, 2008
By Jonathan Allen, CQ Staff 

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama picked up the support of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who began the year as a rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. Richardson, in a statement posted Friday on the Web site of his defunct presidential campaign and e-mailed to supporters, also called for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to end her own campaign for the nomination for the good of the Democratic Party.

Democratic Presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) ...
Democratic Presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) greets New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (L) as they take the stage for the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, December 1, 2007.(Keith Bedford/Reuters)

Richardson served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as Energy secretary during the presidency of Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton‘s husband.

Richardson, in his statement, offered brief praise for the Clintons and their political contributions. But he said the long and contentious battle over the nomination needs to end so the party can focus on the general election contest against Arizona Sen. John McCain, who early this month secured enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination.

“It is time, however, for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall,” Richardson said.

Richardson’s position as governor makes him the most prominent Hispanic official in the nation, and his past roles as a Cabinet official and a long-serving U.S. House member before that make him arguably the most accomplished Hispanic politician in the nation’s history.

The endorsement from Richardson could give a lift to Obama’s effort to improve his showings among Hispanic voters. Clinton has longstanding ties to this constituency dating to her time as first lady, and Obama — in his bid to become the nation’s first African-American president — may be hindered by longstanding frictions among some blacks and Hispanics over economic issues, ethnic tensions and political representation.

Richardson described Obama as the candidate who can unify the country, citing the speech the senator made Tuesday concerning racial reconciliation in America as he sought to distance himself from inflammatory remarks on race relations made in the past by the pastor at his Chicago church.

Senator Obama has started a discussion in this country long overdue and rejects the politics of pitting race against race,” Richardson said. “He understands clearly that only by bringing people together, only by bridging our differences can we all succeed together as Americans.”

Though Obama made only three glancing references to Americans of Hispanic origin in his speech, Richardson said he was moved.

“As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his words. I have been troubled by the demonization of immigrants — specifically Hispanics — by too many in this country. Hate crimes against Hispanics are rising as a direct result and now, in tough economic times, people look for scapegoats and I fear that people will continue to exploit our racial differences — and place blame on others not like them,” Richardson said.

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