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Richardson Begins to Rise

By Justin Miller

Bill Richardson officially kicked off his presidential campaign this week in California, but his real rise as a candidate has come this month in Iowa.

Every poll from Iowa since mid-April has put Richardson in fourth and outside of the margin of error, now giving him an average of 8 percent support in the state. Richardson remains more than 15 points behind the leading Democratic candidates, but prior to April he was below 4 percent support.

However, campaigning and a $110,000 worth of advertisements during May surveys seems to have helped Richardson.

"Frankly, it's happened even quicker than we expected," said Richardson campaign manager Dave Contarino. The two-part ad where Richardson is interviewed for the job of president was original, funny and effective at showing his long resume, which Contrarino said Richardson's best asset.

"For the first time we've really put the governor's record out there," Contarino said. "I think that it never hurts to be on TV when you're polling, but these Iowa folks are pretty sophisticated caucus goers. ... I think the big difference between us and every one else is that no one else could run ads like we've run. No one else has taken such a clear position on Iraq and no one else has a record like the governor has...."

Richardson has visited Iowa four times since he started campaigning in January and plans to be back two or three times before the end of June, Contarino said.

"We'll be back there and active and pressing the flesh. As the governor said, we don't do thousand person rallies and leave the state. He goes in there and sits down with people in the more traditional Iowa settings," Contarino said. The campaign has increased its media buy lately and plans to continually renew weekly ad buys for the next couple of weeks.

The real test of Richardson's strength as a candidate will come in the other early nominating states, including Nevada, a state is not entirely clear how it will fit into the nominating process because of its new position in the eight-day gap between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

"I think Nevada is deservedly important," Contarino said, largely for the same reasons it was chosen: it's western location, high growth rate, sizable union presence and large Hispanic population. Exemplifying these characteristics is the state's Culinary Union, which has 60,000 members (the largest union in Nevada) and is 40 percent Hispanic. Richardson spoke to the group three weeks ago.

"The Culinary Union is extremely important. They are a critical constituency, well organized. We believe the governor has the best pro-labor record of anyone running," Contarino said. The Hispanic make up of the union is important and Contrarino believes Richardson can "earn that endorsement with his record and his understanding of a lot of issues that those folks grapple with," not just his ethnicity.

Though Richardson is performing well in Iowa and seems to have a foothold in Nevada, he has not found the same support in various polls from New Hampshire and South Carolina.

"I frankly think we are doing well in New Hampshire," Contarino said, citing a Zogby poll that gave Richardson 10 percent support. "I think Bill Richardson is a really independent kind of Democrat, a pro-growth, very progressive Democrat that will appeal to independents that can cross over" in the state's primary.

Contarino said the strategy for New Hampshire and South Carolina is much the same as it's been for Iowa: further visits and more ads.

"What's happened in recent weeks is really a ratification of our strategy," Contarino said.

Justin Miller is an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at © 2000-2007 All Rights Reserved

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