Countdown: Richardson Explains Obama Endorsement

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson came off the sidelines to endorse Senator Barack Obama yesterday and joined Keith Olbermann on Countdown to expl

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson came off the sidelines to endorse Senator Barack Obama yesterday and joined Keith Olbermann on Countdown to explain the endorsement and why he chose this time to make it. Richardson took exception to Clinton strategist Mark Penn's assertion that his endorsement was too late and wasn't significant, saying it's typical of many of the people in Clinton's campaign.

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Richardson says the speech Obama gave in response to the Rev. Wright smear campaign showed his real leadership abilities and sealed the deal for his endorsement. Richardson called for the negative tone and dirty politics to come to an end and for the party to come together to put forward a positive message. He says he still has enormous respect for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, but in the end, it was the negativity that started to take place after the Texas primary that moved him to move toward Obama.

Well I waited because I was just legitimately very torn. You mentioned my ties to the Clintons, my loyalties to President Clinton, my support and respect for Senator Clinton.

But, I just realized that if I was going to make a difference, at a time we need party unity, at a time when the campaign was really getting nasty and personal, at a time when Senator Obama responded, I believe, in such a courageous way to a problem in his campaign -- those remarks
by his own pastor -- I felt that I needed to step in and say that I am backing Senator Obama because I think this man has got something very good about him, something very special.

Full transcript below the fold

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, kind enough to join us now from Santa Fe. Good evening, Governor.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thank you for your time tonight. Why now? Why did you wait?

RICHARDSON: Well I waited because I was just legitimately very torn. You mentioned my ties to the Clintons, my loyalties to President Clinton, my support and respect for Senator Clinton.


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But, I just realized that if I was going to make a difference, at a time we need party unity, at a time when the campaign was really getting nasty and personal, at a time when Senator Obama responded, I believe, in such a courageous way to a problem in his campaign -- those remarks by his own pastor -- I felt that I needed to step in and say that I am
backing Senator Obama because I think this man has got something very good about him, something very special.

I can't put my precise point on it, except to say that, you know, Keith, I was in that auditorium in Portland. I looked at the faces of all those people and all I saw was hope and enthusiasm, but mainly, hope. And I think that just reinforced by decision.

OLBERMANN: Governor, Mark Penn of the Clinton campaign responded today by disparaging the impact, or any impact your endorsement will have. Let me quote him and then get your reaction.

"The time that he could have been effective has long since passed. I don't think it is a significant endorsement in this environment."

How do you react to that statement from Mr. Penn?

RICHARDSON: Well I regret it. It's typical of many of the people in that campaign. What he basically was saying -- the stereotype was that I could have endorsed before Texas, because I'm Hispanic, and that's when I would have made a difference. Now that Texas is over, my endorsement doesn't make a difference. That's his view. That's the -- maybe the campaign view. I still have enormous respect for Senator Clinton. I think she's fought a great race, President Clinton, too. But I think you have to get in the arena. And I felt that the time has come for us to stop this bickering, like Mark Penn making statements like that, and basically come together as a party and talk positive about this country at the issues instead of the all of this sniping that seems to take place almost everyday.

OLBERMANN: All right. Let me ask you one last process question, then we'll skip more to subjective -- substantive stuff.

At any point, were you close to announcing an endorsement of Senator Clinton?

RICHARDSON: Yes, I was. I almost did. The president came to see me in Santa Fe; we watched the Super Bowl together. I was about to do it. He's very persuasive. And I have enormously strong ties to them, they were good to me, I was good to them.

But then I waited and I said, I'm going to just -- there's something that says to me, I must wait. And then Texas happened and then the negativity took place. And then Obama gave his speech -- although I had kind of decided, almost a week ago, to make the endorsement. And now, I feel that it was the right time. You've got to step up in the arena. I think it helped Senator Obama, even though I personally haven't felt that these endorsements of one politician to another help much. But
he's kind of had a bad week. And this has certainly boosted his staff --I saw it, his supporters. So maybe my endorsement has a little bit of significance. But obviously, Mark Penn doesn't think so. But we'll see.

OLBERMANN: One thing that strikes me, from your statement today in Portland with Senator Obama, -- you've mentioned in several times here, you've almost taken on the roll of referee here in asking the Democratic campaigns to keep it clean, you said that today in the speech. You've talked about the infighting now. No more fighting until the general
election match up against the Republicans. I've expressed my sadness here previously that that has not been the
case in this campaign. Obviously you've expressed your sadness about it today. You have also selected who you think should be the Democratic nominee. The way this has gone, to end to fighting, do you think Senator Clinton should concede now or in the immediate future?

RICHARDSON: Well, I'm not in any position to tell her what to do abouther campaign. But I have seen your eloquence on this issue. I share the view that since Texas, since the last big "D" day, which was Ohio and Texas, the campaign has gotten very nasty. Almost daily, personal attacks, integrity attacks, the 3:00 a.m. phone call, on both sides. And we don't need that. We've got John McCain running around the world, boosting his foreign policy credentials, raising funds, building support; and we're bickering. And we're a Democratic Party that has been on the resurgence.

And the American people are on our side on the issues. But when it appears that we're downgrading each other, attacking each other, not talking positive, cat fighting, nastiness, then I think the time has come for individuals, like myself, that have been in the arena, that maybe have run for president, to say, all right, the time has come to stop this. The time has come to come together as a party. The time has come to get a nominee before the convention.

The time has come -- also I just think these superdelegates should not be the arbiters and the deciders of this race -- 800 of them. A lot of them are good people, but they're fat cats; they're governors, like me; they're senators; they're congressman. Why should we decide? Let the voters in proportion to the vote in various states make that decision.

OLBERMANN: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Great -- thanks for your time tonight. Congratulations on wrestling the beast of this decision to the ground finally. And all the best to you, sir.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

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