Saturday, March 22, 2008

How might Bill Richardson's support for Barack change the campaign?

Thinking overnight about Bill Richardson's decision to come out in support of Barack, I have concluded that it is at most a minor black eye for the Clinton campaign and only a minor boost for Barack. Sure, it is definitely a feather in Barack's cap, but really simply more of an ego boost, and a boost for the spirits of Barack's supporters, but not necessarily much more than that. After all, Richardson never gained any significant traction when he was a candidate. That shows the raw limit of his impact on the national scene.

OTOH, for Washington insiders, Richardson's "act of betrayal" has cosmic symbolic significance, and could inspire more Washington insiders to "switch horses", but the goings-on inside the beltway really are neither here nor there when computing the political calculus at a national level.

My personal philosphical view is that Richardson had gotten about as much mileage out of the Clinton's as possible, having been Secretary of Energy and Ambassador to the UN, so they simply did not have a lot to offer him. Even as VP, he would spend eight years knowing that in 2016 he would be facing Barack as a potential rival for the White House. Worse, he would look forward to 2016 as being "tainted" by the "old order" of the Clintons rather than the "new order" of "the next generation." By betting big on Barack now, Richardson give himself a much stronger option of being top dog for president in 2016, and positioned himself as part of that "next generation." Whether that is the calculus he used, I do not know, but it is certainly a calculus that any observer would view and say that Richardson has a better career ahead of himself by aligning with Barack rather than Hillary.

Also, if Barack does fail to win the nomination and decides not to pursue the White House any further, that would still leave Richardson in a good position for 2016. In fact, even though the Clinton's may feel betrayed by him, the political calculus (e.g., the Hispanic vote for Richardson and a desire to appeal to Barack's supporters and other of "the next generation") might persuade them to accept him as VP as a form of peace offering with the rest of the Democratic party. I am assuming that Barack really has no intention of playing #2 to Hillary.

I would say that Richardson's decision to back Barack is a slam dunk wise career move.

Now, whether all of this really means any significant net setback for Hillary at the national level is, I would say, quite debatable. Maybe it cut her chance of winning the nomination by another couple of percent, but I doubt that it cuts her chances by more than 5% at the max.

The silver lining in this dark cloud is that it sends a very loud message directly to Hillary and Bill Clinton that they need to take a very deep breath and seriously reinvent themselves for the next phase of the campaign. But, given their history, I think that is just the kind of challenge that they can and even enjoy rising to.

There are two things that I would not bet against at this stage, one is Barack, and the other is Hillary.

-- Jack Krupansky


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