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Bill Richardson, dissected

June 14, 2007 |  3:44 pm

Bill Richardson's folksy, unorthodox campaign style has been getting a lot of media attention. And the verdict seems to be in: it may be fun to cover, but it may not be good for his political health.

The New Republic's Ryan Lizza penned a lengthy piece that he talked about Wednesday on MSNBC. Summarizing his take on Richardson, Lizza said: "He comes off as a very personable guy, very funny. And, you know, we always accuse these guys of not being candid enough, and in Richardson's case sometimes he is a little too candid and it gets him in trouble."

Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza touted the article today and weighed in with his own view of the New Mexico governor, saying, "... we remain skeptical about his chances of winning the nomination for a simple reason: his unpredictability."

And The Times' Maria La Ganga late last week wrote a flavorable story that captured the essentials of the Richardson candidacy.

His public persona is not the only way Richardson stretches the parameters of the expectations surrounding a contemporary presidential candidate. There's the matter of looks.

If, based on appearances, Republican Mitt Romney comes straight from central casting --- trim, square-jawed and with a head of hair most men over 30 would die for --- Democrat Richardson defines the spectrum's other end. Heavyset and jowly, he's got bags under his eyes that a month's worth of 12-hour-a-night sleep wouldn't erase.

Richardson and his campaign staff knew that despite his impressive political resume, he started his race little-known to many voters. With that in mind, he pledged to a campaign with a different type of sensibility. He made good on that promise with a pair of ads that aired last month in Iowa and captured a good deal of attention. The spots parody a job interview (with Richardson as the applicant), and the campaign adhered to the schtick with a third ad that began this week in Iowa and is to broadcast later in New Hampshire.

When the first ads were unveiled, his campaign manager, Dave Contarino, said, "We wanted to do something original in a presidential campaign --- and that was to use humor to communicate" Richardson's achievements.

Whether ads that emphasize humor truly accomplish their aim --- to seal the deal in selling a product (or, in this case, a candidate) --- is a long-running debate in the advertising world. Richardson has decided it's worth a shot, in part because it's in sync with his personality.

His manner, and how it differs from his rivals in the nomination contest, were vividly on display when California Democrats gathered for their convention about six weeks ago in San Diego and were wooed by a parade of the party's White House hopefuls.

Most of the other contenders were sleekly attired as they took their turn at the podium; Richardson wore a rumpled, navy blue sports coat and a pair of tan pants that had long since lost its creases (if it ever had any). He peppered much of his speech with self-deprecatory jokes, which he continued to crack during a news conference. And he displayed utterly no illusions about the uphill climb he faces; as an aide tried to cut off questions from reporters, reminding the governor they had a plane to catch, Richardson turned to him and said, "Mike, I'm at 8% (in the polls) ... I've got to keep going."

As the recent articles on him drive home, Richardson makes for good copy. But whether he makes a good presidential candidate is very much in doubt.

-- Don Frederick

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