WASHINGTON – Democrat Bill Richardson took the first step Sunday toward a bid to become the first Hispanic president, saying the country needs his extensive experience as a governor, cabinet secretary and ambassador.
The 59-year-old New Mexico governor announced in a video posted on his Web site that he would set up an exploratory committee that will allow him to begin raising money and assembling his campaign organization.
His candidacy would make history as the field of Democratic candidates would be the most diverse ever. On Saturday, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said she wanted to be the first female president. Last week, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois jumped in, a formidable contender who would be the first black commander in chief.
Richardson, whose father was an international banker from Boston and whose mother was Mexican, said he believes the country "has changed enough" that voters are ready for a woman or minority president.
"The country is looking for somebody who, one, brings the country together — a unifier, a healer," Richardson told The Associated Press. "And two, somebody who gets things done. Those two quests by Americans override any other concerns."
A former U.N. ambassador, Energy Department secretary and congressman, Richardson stressed his experience. He said he wanted U.S. troops to return quickly from Iraq and urged a change of leadership in Washington that would work to bridge a wide partisan divide.
"What this country needs is bipartisanship and to bring back civility" in government, he said. "I've actually done what a lot of candidates give speeches on."
Richardson polls far behind the Democratic front-runners: Clinton, Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards. Raising money for a presidential race will be challenging for Richardson. Still, his background makes him a potentially formidable candidate.
"The national debate about the future of our country has begun and I believe I have a different perspective to offer. I know I'm not the favorite in this race," the governor said in his video.
"As an underdog and governor of a small, Western state, I will not have the money that other candidates will have. However, I believe these serious times demand serious people, who have real-world experience in solving the challenges we face. I humbly believe I'm the best-equipped candidate to meet these challenges."
In New Mexico, he has hosted talks on North Korea's nuclear program. Most recently he traveled to Sudan to meet with the country's president and to press him for an end to the bloodshed in Darfur.
On Iraq, he advocates using diplomacy to broker an end to conflict by bringing together interested nations and convincing donor countries to help rebuild the country's infrastructure.
He said U.S. troops should be redeployed by the end of the year to Afghanistan and other regions in the Persian Gulf.
Richardson settled in New Mexico after several years as a Washington staffer, partly because of the state's large Hispanic population. He served in the House from 1982 until 1996, when President Clinton named him U.N. ambassador. In 1998 he joined the Clinton Cabinet as energy secretary.
Richardson ran into trouble as energy secretary for his handling of a scandal at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory over computer equipment with nuclear secrets that went missing.
Some have said Richardson's position in the race — running behind Clinton, Edwards and Obama — makes him an ideal vice presidential candidate. But Richardson said he is "not in this race to be vice president."
Other Democratic contenders include former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack; Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd; and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden has said he will run and plans to formalize his intentions soon. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the party's 2004 candidate, also contemplates another run.