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And Then There Were Five - Richardson To Bow Out *

It won’t be official until later today, and there’s some question about whether his campaign will officially end or simply be “suspended” inde

It won’t be official until later today, and there’s some question about whether his campaign will officially end or simply be “suspended” indefinitely, but it appears that Bill Richardson is poised to withdraw from the Democratic presidential race.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico is pulling out of the presidential race, after coming in fourth in both the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses, according to people with knowledge of his decision.

Mr. Richardson made the decision after returning to New Mexico Wednesday and meeting with his top advisers, they said. He is expected to make an announcement on Thursday.

His withdrawal removes a candidate who had a hard-edged message of immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq, but tempered it with humorous television advertisements that emphasized his wide-ranging resume in a clever way.

Amusing ads notwithstanding, Richardson’s campaign struggled to connect. In Iowa, he finished with 2% of the caucus vote, despite heavy campaigning and an ad blitz that began last summer. In New Hampshire, where he spent considerable time and was eyeing a third-place finish, he finished a distant fourth, winning less than 5% of the vote.

It’s not my intention to kick a guy when he’s down, but it’s probably worth taking a moment to consider why Richardson floundered.

Richardson, on paper, was as good a candidate as could be imagined. He’s been a governor, a congressman, a cabinet secretary, an ambassador to the United Nations, and a successful hostage negotiator. He’s from a swing state that Dems will want to win in November. He speaks Spanish fluently and has a Mexican-American background. He’s known for having a gregarious, back-slapping personality. For that matter, as the only governor in the race, Richardson had a historic advantage — Democratic governors have tended to do pretty well of late.

But Richardson was, in many ways, the Bob Graham of the 2008 race — great resume, awful candidate.

Michael D. mentioned last night, “I never understood why his campaign never took off.” I imagine Richardson has been saying the same thing, but I don’t think it’s too difficult to understand.

Even if we put aside his lackluster campaigning skills, and awkward debate performances, Richardson began losing a lot of people last summer with some very conservative talk about economics. He made constant references to a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution; he bragged about being a “pro-growth Democrat” (as if Dems are usually anti-growth); and boasted that he’d buck the party’s principles and be a “tax-cut Democrat.”

All of this was more than ridiculous, it was the Republican playbook. As Ezra Klein put it back in July, “Richardson is a real fiscal conservative. And not in the imprecise way that the term is sometimes bandied about to mean ‘fiscally responsible.’ The guy is actually a conservative.”

On foreign policy, Richardson supporters will surely point out that he’s been the only Dem taking a firm stand in support of a full withdrawal from Iraq, with no residual forces. That’s true. But I’d also note that as recently as 2003, Richardson had genuine neocon tendencies, he rejected withdrawal in 2005, and maybe, just maybe, arrived at his 2007 position as a result of political convenience. (He also had a tendency of confusing African countries, and calling Russia the “Soviet Union,” which didn’t exactly help position him as an expert on international affairs.)

As for where Richardson’s support may go, it’s a highly relevant question, particularly in Nevada, where he was poised to do fairly well.

I doubt Richardson will endorse anyone right away, but it’s worth keeping in mind that before the Iowa caucuses, Richardson’s campaign held quiet negotiations with Obama’s team, at least offering a hint about the governor’s sympathies.

Stay tuned.

*Title changed to reflect the correct number of official candidates.

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