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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Resume Candidates

The news that Bill Richardson has withdrawn from the Democratic presidential contest–on the eve of what was supposed to be his breakthrough moment, the Nevada Caucuses–is getting limited attention, and much of that involves relief at the elimination of a candidate from the debates. To the extent that he’s Latino, and Latino voters are a very important source of support for HRC, maybe she’s helped by it marginally.
It’s also generally assumed that Richardson will be near the top of the short list for the vice presidential nomination, no matter who’s at the top. Why? That famous resume, of course.
All candidates for high office ideally want to achieve some sort of balance in their presentations among experience/accomplishments, persona, message and positioning. Some can, some can’t. While Barack Obama has gone to some trouble to tout his record as a state senator, and before that, as a community organizer, his resume simply isn’t his strongest suit. Richardson, on the other hand, was one of the purest “resume candidates” in memory: a congressman, a governor, an ambassador, a hostage negotiator, a Cabinet member supervising a suddenly sexy issue-area (energy), an impeccable electoral record, a Latino identity, and a home-base in a swing state and a swing region. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
But unfortunately for Richardson, it was about all he brought to the table. His efforts to position himself as the stoutest antiwar candidate went virtually nowhere, beyond earning him some temporary blogger buzz. His “folksy” persona apparently didn’t much charm Iowans, and came across as, well, unpresidential in debates and media interviews, undermining his credentials. And his theoretical electibility, based on the resume, wasn’t convincing to actual voters.
Richardson’s hardly the first presidential candidate to find out his resume wasn’t enough to get him the job. Some of the most feeble campaigns of the past have been launched by Big Cheese Washington figures who mistook insider adulation for potential national appeal (e.g., Wilbur Mills, Lloyd Bentsen, Howard Baker, John Connally, Fritz Hollings, Phil Gramm, Dick Lugar).
But resumes often are very important in vice presidential selections, which by their nature are usually designed to send a signal about the ticket rather than to choose the best or most exciting politician. That’s particularly true with relatively inexperienced presidential candidates (Kennedy-Johnson ’60, Carter-Mondale ’76, Dukakis-Bentsen ’88, and of course, Bush-Cheney 2000).
Richardson’s handicap in the veepstakes, ironically, is part of what made him interesting as a presidential candidate: his Latino identity. Would the first female or first African-American presidential nominee really want to double down by selecting the first Latino vice presidential candidate? It’s doubtful, though by no means impossible.
Besides, there are other Big Resumes out there, if that’s what the nominee wants (most notably Evan Bayh of Indiana, Bob Graham of Florida, or perhaps even the other Resume Candidate of 2008, Chris Dodd, who picked the wrong year to tout his Washington experience). So the odds are that Bill Richardson will serve out his gubernatorial term, and then, if things go okay in November and he chooses to do so, add another line to his resume in a Democratic administration.

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