Richardson backs Obama in blow to Clinton

Senator Barack Obama won a coveted endorsement from fellow Democrat Bill Richardson on Friday as the State Department apologized for snooping into his passport files and those of his two main White House rivals.

The decision by the Hispanic governor of New Mexico is a victory for Obama and could improve the Illinois Democrat’s chances of winning over Latino voters who have leaned toward his Democratic challenger, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

Obama and Clinton are in a heated battle to represent the Democrats against the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, in the November 4 presidential election to succeed United States President George Bush.

In an embarrassment to the Bush administration, the State Department on Friday revealed that the passport records of all three major candidates had been improperly viewed by three contract employees and by a regular department staffer.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Obama, Clinton and McCain to apologise and the State Department said it was conducting an investigation and would look at how to tighten its systems to prevent such privacy violations.

The incident revived memories of the political firestorm that erupted in 1992 after State Department officials searched former President Bill Clinton’s passport and citizenship files when he was the Democratic presidential candidate.

Richardson, who served as US ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary during the Clinton administration, chose to abandon the former president and his wife, saying it was time for a new generation to take the stage.


“Your candidacy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our nation and you are a once-in-a-lifetime leader,” Richardson said as he stood next to Obama in Oregon. “You will make every American proud to be an American and I am very proud today to endorse your candidacy for president.”

Clinton and Obama assiduously had cultivated Richardson’s backing in part because the Hispanic politician could garner support among the Hispanic community, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate and a potentially vital voting bloc.

Hispanics largely backed Clinton in nominating contests on “Super Tuesday,” with polls showing her winning two-thirds of the Latino vote in several states, and it was unclear whether they might shift to Obama because of Richardson’s endorsement.

Clinton’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, on a conference call with reporters, dismissed Richardson’s potential impact this far into the race. “I think that, you know, perhaps the time when he could have been most effective has long since passed,” he said.

While saying his “great affection and admiration for Senator Clinton and President Clinton will never waver,” Richardson (60) added: “it is now time for a new generation of leadership to lead America forward.”

A skilled negotiator and diplomat, the popular governor has been mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate or secretary of state in a Democratic administration.

He also is a superdelegate who would have a vote in the nominating contest if neither Obama nor Clinton win enough delegates during the primaries.

Richardson praised a speech Obama made earlier in the week on bridging divides between blacks and whites, and extended that speech’s message to appeal to Hispanic immigrants.

“As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his words. I have been troubled by the demonization of immigrants—specifically Hispanics—by too many in this country,” Richardson said.

He said Obama’s speech “asked us to rise above our racially divided past, and to seize the opportunity to carry forward the work of many patriots of all races, who struggled and died to bring us together.”

Obama gave that speech in response to a political controversy ignited when news outlets called attention to sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright at a Chicago church that the Illinois senator attended for two decades.

Wright, who retired recently, has railed that the September 11 attacks were retribution for US foreign policy, called the government the source of the Aids syndrome and expressed anger over what he called racist America. - Reuters



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