Hispanic governor boosts Obama; setback for Hillary Clinton

March 22nd, 2008 - 10:53 am ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 22 (IANS) In a major setback to Hillary Clinton’s hopes of becoming America’s first woman president, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has announced his endorsement of Senator Barack Obama, her rival for Democratic nomination. Richardson, America’s only Hispanic governor, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential race Jan 10, joined Obama bidding to be the first black US chief executive at a rally in Portland, Oregon, Friday.

“Barack Obama will be a historic and a great president, who can bring us the change we so desperately need by bringing us together as a nation here at home and with our allies abroad,” Richardson said with Obama standing at his side.

Democrats were blessed to have two strong candidates in Obama and Hillary Clinton, but that it was time for the party “to stop fighting amongst ourselves”, said Richardson, and to prepare for the tough fight against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain.

Richardson was secretary of energy and US ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, with whom he watched the Super Bowl this year. He said he remains friends with the Clintons and his admiration for them would not waver.

But he said it was time for a new generation of leadership to bring America forward. “You are a once-in-a-lifetime leader,” the governor said from the stage. “Above all, you will be a president who brings this nation together.”

As a Hispanic, Richardson said he was touched by Obama’s speech earlier this week on race, which he deemed historic. He said he has been troubled by the “the demonisation of immigrants - specifically Hispanics - by too many in this country,” and praised Obama for tackling the issue.

“He understands clearly that only by bringing people together, only by bridging our differences can we all succeed together as Americans,” Richardson said.

Obama and Hillary Clinton both lobbied Richardson for his endorsement after he dropped out of the race. His endorsement could boost Obama’s standing with Hispanics, a group that has consistently backed Clinton.

Obama said he is “deeply honoured” to receive the nomination and touted Richardson’s commitment to working toward global peace and stability.

Richardson called Clinton Thursday to tell her of his decision, Clinton’s campaign said, shrugging off his endorsement of her rival.

“Both candidates have many great endorsers, but the voters, not endorsers, will decide this election, and there are still millions of voters in upcoming contests who want to have their voices heard,” Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said.

Richardson’s endorsement may be more important for its influence on super delegates, the nearly 800 Democratic elected and party officials whose backing will be essential for either candidate to win the party’s nomination.

The Clinton and Obama campaigns have been waging an intense battle for the backing of super delegates, roughly half of whom have yet to declare their support.

Richardson pointed out in his speech that Obama is “after all, well ahead in the delegate race for our party’s nomination,” drawing a roar of approval from the crowd of Obama supporters. Obama leads Clinton by 1622-1485 or 137 delegates, according to the latest CNN count.

Richardson is the second former Democratic presidential contender to endorse Obama, after Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Two other former candidates, Joe Biden, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee and John Edwards, 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, have remained neutral.

No primaries are scheduled until Pennsylvania’s on April 22 with 188 delegates at stake. Obama hopes to use this gap for such announcements to assert that he is the front-runner for the nomination. Oregon holds its primary May 20.

Meanwhile, a new poll suggested the lengthy Democratic primary contest bodes well for Republican chances of holding the White House.

As Obama and Clinton slug it out for the nomination, many of their supporters - at least in Pennsylvania, site of the next major primary - aren’t committed to the party’s ticket in November, according to a Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

Among Obama supporters, 20 percent said they would vote for McCain, the Republican nominee, if Clinton beats their candidate for the nomination. Among Clinton supporters, 19 percent said they would support McCain in November if Obama is the Democratic nominee.

Democrats won Pennsylvania in the 2000 and 2004 presidential races, but it was a competitive state in both election cycles. McCain, meanwhile, has touted his appeal to swing voters.

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