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Bill Richardson's report card

July 3, 2007 |  3:05 am

We would imagine Bill Richardson's campaign is feeling pretty good about itself these days. And we're more than willing to take note of positive developments for the New Mexico governor.

But allow us to chime in with a little unpaid advice: as the campaign intensifies after the summer, and lots of voters start paying much more attention to the various forums and debates, Richardson would be well-advised to better prepare for obvious questions and better articulate his answers.

First, the good news for the Democratic presidential contender:

          * The $7-plus million he reported raising in the year's second quarter --- while dwarfed by the figures Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton posted --- was a solid number for Richardson, given his place in the race.


          * In Washington last week, he gave a serious, thoughtful speech on dealing with Iran that played to his strengths --- his background as a diplomat and negotiator.

          *, a clearing-house for surveys of every stripe in the presidential contest, took note of what it termed "his substantial movement in Iowa" and improved showing in New Hampshire. "While Richardson is still in fourth place in both states ... his is the only trajectory that is clearly moving up," the site said.

          * Richardson apparently stole the show over the weekend in Florida as the Democratic White House hopefuls strutted their stuff to a gathering of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. According to one account, he was easily the crowd favorite, winning "several rounds of applause and three standing ovations."

Still, we can't shake from our memories his response at the recent candidate forum at Washington's Howard University, when asked how he would lessen the scourge of AIDS among young African Americans.

That's the question Clinton hit out of the park, sparking a huge response when she told the largely black audience that if AIDS "was the leading cause of death of white women between the age of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country."

But Richardson actually had first crack at the question. To his credit, he quickly tried to get into specifics for confronting the health crisis. But as he did so, he handled it ineptly.

"First, we've got to have -- we have to use needles," he said. And then he moved on to another thought.

Now, presumably Richardson was referring to needle exchange programs. Those are the controversial efforts in many communities to reduce the sharing of contaminated syringes --- an easy way to pass on the HIV virus --- by supplying clean needles to drug users. And presumably many in the crowd, and the national television audience, understood his reference. But it's a good bet some didn't, or at best had only a vague clue what Richardson was talking about.

On he pressed, again short-handing his message. To combat AIDS, he said as he neared the time limit for his answer, Richardson called for "finding ways to increase needles... ."

Frankly, we don't think Richardson really wanted to be on the record calling for more needles out there. And if this had been an uncharacteristic stumble, we could cut him some slack. But it wasn't. For the most part --- his performance at the Latino event being the exception --- he's been an underachiever at the candidate debates and forums, struggling to effectively communicate. Eventually, that could stall whatever momentum he claims in other aspects of the campaign.

-- Don Frederick