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The endorsement business: Richardson, Obama and 2 Clintons

March 21, 2008 | 10:07 pm

There are political endorsements -- and then there's what goes on behind political endorsements. And today, courtesy of New Mexico Bill Richardson's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, we got a little peek into that saNew Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has rejected the appeal of former president Bill Clinton and endorsed Illinois Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination over New York Senator Hillary Clintoncred political process that campaigns devote so much effort to and the rest of us typically yawn over.

First of all, there's constant endorsee wooing going on. Seemingly impromptu phone calls from the candidate or high aides. Flowers for the spouse on her birthday. All kinds of things. John Edwards and Al Gore are the targets right now

Ex-President Bill Clinton invited himself over to Richardson's home last month to watch the Super Bowl and they talked and chewed chips, and Bill reminded Bill about the important jobs he'd given him during the Clinton White House administration and how important the Hispanic governor's endorsement would be for Hillary now.

"I was about to do it," Richardson said on MSNBC today. "He's very persuasive."

Clinton went away thinking at least he'd prevented Richardson from endorsing Obama.

But Richardson got to thinking he'd wait a bit. And, as reported here 10 days ago, Richardson seemed to be leaning toward Obama. In fact, he'd told Obama he was "99%" with him. The delay caused Obama's Chicago headquarters to worry.

Meanwhile, Richardson found himself....

increasingly disturbed by the criticisms and racial tones and then impressed with Obama and what the governor called his courageous race speech this week. And that clinched it for Richardson.

What we didn't see or hear was last night's phone conversation when Richardson made the courtesy call to Clinton to inform her she was not his choice. Doesn't sound like that went too friendly. "It was a painful conversation for me that I had with Sen. Clinton last night," Richardson told CNN's John King today.

King bored in, saying he'd heard from others that such conversations with the Clintons could actually be downright unpleasant. "Well," Richardson added, "let's say it was a difficult conversation." That leaves a good deal to the imagination about what might have been said about ingratitude and perceived promises.

Today, the Clinton campaign, which so badly wanted Richardson's O.K. that it sent a former president all the way to Santa Fe to spend most of a weekend with the guy, was putting out the word through Mark Penn that Richardson's endorsement, coming after the Texas primary with all of its Hispanic voters, actually was too late to matter much to anyone.

Richardson said that's "typical of many of the people in that campaign," adding, "I still have enormous respect for Sen. Clinton."

Back on CNN, King asked the obligatory question about the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket. And Richardson  said, "Well, you know, John. I love being governor of New Mexico and growing my beard and, you know, riding my horse. So I'm going to work very hard for him to get elected."

Translation: I'd accept in a heartbeat.

As an elected Democrat, Richardson is a superdelegate to the national convention. So one more of those for Obama. But Richardson's endorsement of Obama goes against his state's popular primary vote for Clinton March 5. The governor may hear about that in months to come, assuming he doesn't, oh, get some kind of new federal job assignment.

But here's something else to watch for. As of Feb. 29, according to The Times' Dan Morain, Richardson had a reported remaining campaign debt from his own doomed presidential effort of $420,848. Other presidential dropouts who end up endorsing a former competitor have found those debts quickly disappearing through contributions from the grateful competitor's supporters.

It's probably just a coincidence though.

--Andrew Malcolm

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