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Richardson formally declares candidacy for president

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced his candidacy for president yesterday in Los Angeles. He promised to repair the "ravages" of the Bush administration. (J. EMILIO FLORES/GETTY IMAGES)

LOS ANGELES -- Flanked by local Hispanic leaders and a large contingent of politicians from his home state, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico formally entered the 2008 presidential campaign yesterday, saying that his thick resume offered him an ability unmatched by others in the race to tackle the country's problems at home and abroad.

The Democratic candidate, who has been running for months and has aired campaign ads, made his announcement in downtown Los Angeles' Millennium Biltmore Hotel -- the same hotel in which John F. Kennedy accepted the 1960 Democratic nomination for president, Richardson said .

Richardson's official entry expands what is becoming the most diverse field of mainstream presidential candidates in US history. He is of Mexican heritage, and his Democratic candidacy joins those of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the son of a black man, and Senator Hillary Clinton of New York , the first woman to campaign in the top tier of her party's presidential contenders.

While the staging of the announcement emphasized his ethnicity -- Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina hosted the announcement -- Richardson played up his resume, one of the most wide-ranging among the major candidates. He served seven terms representing New Mexico in Congress and was US ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary in the Clinton administration.

A Pasadena-born Democrat who was raised primarily in Mexico City, Richardson also has performed several high-profile diplomatic missions, including negotiating for the release of Americans who had been detained in North Korea, Iraq, and Darfur.

In contrast, Clinton is in her second term in the Senate. Obama, a former Chicago community organizer and Illinois state legislator, is in the third year of his first Senate term. Another Democratic candidate, former trial lawyer John Edwards, served one term in the Senate.

"This nation needs a leader with a proven track record, an ability to bring people together to tackle our problems here at home and abroad," Richardson said.

But Richardson is not well-known, and in early fund-raising -- key to making ad buys to introduce voters to him -- he has lagged well behind the record-setting levels of Obama and Clinton.

Energizing Hispanic voters could be key to his political viability, said Jaime A. Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. Strong Hispanic backing could help Richardson in California, Nevada, and other Southwest states, which the national Democrats see as key to winning the White House.

Nevada and California will hold contests early in the electoral season next year, with the Nevada caucuses scheduled for Jan. 19 and the California primary Feb. 5.

"If his candidacy starts to take off, that means he's playing to the developing political muscle" of Hispanic voters, Regalado said. "But he well knows he can't stay there."

In his announcement, Richardson continued a theme that he established in two recent campaign ads, in which he is seen being interviewed by a hiring director. The ads tout his experience and joke that he might be overqualified to be president.

"Running for this office is the ultimate job interview," Richardson said yesterday. "It's not just about the positions that you've held, what you've done, but your ability on day one to lead this country at a critical time in our nation's history."

Richardson offered several proposals, including a plan for withdrawing all US forces from Iraq in tandem with negotiating a political truce. In a swipe at the Bush administration, Richardson said that "being stubborn is not a foreign policy."

"Only when it is clear that the US will leave Iraq can the hard diplomatic work have a chance for success," Richardson said. "A negotiated political settlement, involving the warring parties and interested neighbors, is how to prevent a regional war."

Richardson returned several times to his view that the nation has been damaged by Bush administration policies.

"We have to repair the damage done here at home and our reputation abroad, and that all starts with restoring diplomacy as the primary instrument of our foreign policy, and basic fairness as the primary means for solving problems," Richardson said.

He also called for aggressive policies aimed at combating global warming, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent in 12 years, cutting demand for oil in half, and enacting fuel-economy standards to 50 miles per gallon .

On health care, Richardson said he would require all employers to provide insurance or pay a fee to the federal government. He also said he opposes the immigration plan before Congress .