LOS ANGELES – New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson vowed to repair the "ravages" of the Bush administration Monday as he formally announced his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The former congressman and Cabinet secretary said his track record makes him the right person to lead the country through a pivotal time. He played up his experience to set him apart in the field with some more famous and better-funded rivals.
"Some are rock stars," said Richardson, who represented New Mexico in Congress and served as President Clinton's energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations. "I am not, but I have a proven record.
In Spanish, he said, "With pride, I hope to be the first Latino president of the United States."
Richardson made the announcement during a news conference at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in the same room where he said his hero, President Kennedy, accepted the Democratic nomination in 1960.
"I'm proud of my record of getting things done," Richardson said. "And I'll put that record up against anyone's."
Richardson said he would repair "damage done here at home and to our reputation abroad," first by removing U.S. troops from Iraq and using diplomacy as the primary instrument of U.S. foreign policy.
"The challenges we face are not acts of God or accidents of fate," Richardson said. "They're man-made and they're deliberate. Whether it will be willful ignorance or an ignorant will, we are left with the ravages of an administration that will take years to rectify. But we can do it."
Richardson has been running for president for months, but he had only formed can exploratory campaign under federal election rules. He is running against Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden; former Sens. John Edwards and Mike Gravel; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
He raised $6.2 million in the first three months of the year — about a quarter of what Obama and Clinton brought in and less than half of what Edwards raised. But his campaign always said he would focus more intensely on fundraising after the first quarter.
His decision to stage a formal launch in Los Angeles was meant to highlight his Hispanic roots and his leadership of a Western state. Richardson also wanted to showcase his roots in California, the nation's most delegate-rich state which has moved up its presidential primary to a new position of early influence on Feb. 5.
Richardson was born in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, thanks to some careful planning by his father. William Blaine Richardson Jr., an American banker living in Mexico City, sent his Mexican wife there to give birth to ensure there would be no questions about his child's citizenship.
Richardson's announcement came in the midst of a dispute with the mother of a Marine from New Mexico killed in Iraq over details surrounding his death.
Richardson often talks on the campaign trail about how he was inspired to create a $250,000 death benefit for fallen New Mexico National Guard members because of the low amount Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin's mother got from the federal government.
Austin's mother, De'on Miller, of Lovington, N.M., told The Associated Press in an interview she never mentioned money to Richardson at her son's memorial service. But Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley said Sunday that the governor stands by his story that Miller thanked him for an initial $11,000 in federal death benefits she had received.
Miller, however, continued to deny Richardson's version of the story.
"Bill Richardson needs to stop pushing this lie," Miller said in an e-mail to the campaign and The AP. "Aaron's name had better not be used again in any way. Not mine either. A full written apology is due me for this."
Shipley acknowledged that Richardson got the details wrong sometimes when telling the story. Richardson said at least once that the Marine's name was Sean Austin and at least twice that he was 17 instead when he was 21. He also has called Austin the first New Mexico soldier to die in Iraq, but he was the third.