SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ended his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday after poor finishes in the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“It is with great pride, understanding and acceptance that I am ending my campaign for president of the United States,” he told supporters gathered at the New Mexico State Capitol.
The two-term governor praised his Democratic rivals and predicted one of them would win the White House in November — but he did not endorse any of them.
Richardson, 60, said he knew from the start that his campaign would be an “upward climb.”
“Despite overwhelming financial and political odds, I am proud of the campaign we waged … and most importantly the influence we had on the issues that matter the most to the future of this country,” he said.
Many of his rivals, he said, had moved closer to his positions on such issues as the war in Iraq and educating young Americans at home.
On a less serious note, he estimated the long campaign had included 200 debates. He quickly amended that to 24 but said “it felt like 200.”
Richardson said he was returning to “the best job in the world” as New Mexico’s governor. With the Legislature convening for its annual session Tuesday, he said with a grin to all those involved: “I’m back.”
Richardson had one of the most wide-ranging resumes of any candidate ever to run for the presidency, bringing experience from his time in Congress, President Clinton’s Cabinet as energy secretary, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in the New Mexico Statehouse as well as his unique role as a freelance diplomat. As a Hispanic, he added to the unprecedented diversity in the Democratic field that also included a black man and a woman.
But Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama dominated the spotlight in the campaign, and Richardson was never able to become a top-tier contender, trailing well behind former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as well.
Richardson fell below 5 percent in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday and came in with just 2 percent in the Iowa caucus last week.
Brian Sanderoff, an Albuquerque pollster, said Richardson made the right decision to end his candidacy because he would become a “footnote” in the campaign if he continued after finishing fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Does he want to be known as a man who tried to take on the heavyweights? Does he want to be known as the candidate who emerged as the top candidate in the second tier, or does he want to be known as the candidate who stayed in the race too long?” said Sanderoff.
By getting out of the race, Sanderoff said, Richardson “could probably put himself in a more powerful position at this time regarding presidential politics by not being a candidate and being someone who could aid the future nominee.”
Late Wednesday, when word of Richardson’s departure first was reported, Edwards congratulated his rival, saying he had run a good race.
“He was a very good candidate, a serious candidate,” said Edwards said in Columbia, S.C. “I congratulate him. He ought to be proud of what he’s done. What’s happened is, over time the race is becoming more focused. I think that’s good for democracy. I think this thing’s going on for a long time,” Edwards said.
“I assume the other two (leading candidates) are,” Edwards added. “I know I am. I’m in it for the long haul.”
Richardson was easily elected to two terms as governor but will be forced from office by term limits in 2010. His closest advisers hope that even if his presidential campaign didn’t bring him many votes, it built his reputation so that he’ll one day be able to add even more to his resume.