SAN FRANCISCO – New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (search), often mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate, said Monday the Democratic Party must reconnect with voters' core values if it hopes to regain congressional seats and perhaps even the presidency.
Partisan fights in the nation's capital must be replaced with policy proposals that strike at the heart of voters' most pressing concerns, such as health care costs and education, he said during a speech at the annual meeting of The Associated Press.
"We just can't be negative. We can't just attack the president at every turn," he said. "We have got to stand for something."
Washington politicians, he said, should look to the states, where both Republican and Democratic governors increasingly are seeking solutions to problems without waiting for the federal government to act.
School funding gaps, low-wage jobs, the rising cost of health care, crime rates, drug use and rising college costs are among the issues governors and state legislators are working hard to address, Richardson said.
"I come face to face with the people I serve, and they're not worried about reforming the tax code ... or judicial appointments," he told the audience, made up mostly of publishers of the nation's newspapers.
He noted that several recent presidents — George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter — were governors first.
Richardson, a former Energy Secretary and United Nations (search) ambassador under President Clinton, was asked afterward if he would run for president in 2008. He declined to say for certain, saying instead he was focused on working with other Democratic governors and his 2006 re-election campaign.
He joked about being one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic elected officials, saying the title always seems to precede him whenever he is introduced.
"The truth is, you get used to it with a name like Richardson," he joked.
He also took a few jabs at prominent Republicans, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search).
Referring to a baseball career cut short by injury, Richardson said he never felt the need to use steroids — not because he didn't want to be a better player, "but because I didn't want to end up being governor of California."
Schwarzenegger has acknowledged using steroids as a bodybuilder in the 1970s but says he would counsel youths today to avoid them.
Richardson also said the news media should focus less on partisan bickering in Washington, and more on how ordinary people are faring.
"You have an opportunity to bring this issue of the state-federal divide into the mainstream. You have the opportunity to show America who is looking out for them," he said. "You have the opportunity to help convey to the leaders in this country what the real problems are and the real crises are."