When Bill Richardson first ran for Congress, in 1980, an adviser suggested he campaign as Bill Richardson Lopez, given that his mother was Mexican and in Spanish-speaking nations, the mother's surname is placed after the father's. "Too obvious," Richardson scoffed. Today, as the nation's only Hispanic Governor, the New Mexican has figured out precisely when and how to flaunt his roots. "No, I will not run for President," he told a New Hampshire Latino audience in June. And then he added in Spanish, "Of course, I will be a candidate!"
It was a joke but not really. It is no secret that Richardson, 57, is aiming for the White House in 2008 if he is re-elected Governor next year. His name recognition may be low, but his résumé is impressive: seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton and, last year, first Hispanic chairman of a national Democratic Convention. But he has also attracted controversy: a federal judge named Richardson last month as a probable source of leaks to the press about Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who admitted mishandling sensitive data but was ultimately absolved of espionage related charges in 2000.
Republicans razz him as a media-savvy showboat and, lately, for buying a $5.5 million jet (he says it serves all state agencies). But he draws conservatives' praise for cutting the state's income tax rate. He also made New Mexico the first state to provide life insurance for National Guardsmen on active duty a widely copied initiative.