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Bill Richardson urges unity among Democrats

If the Democrats hope to retake the White House in November, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama must stop their negative campaigning against each other and start talking about the issues affecting the country, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said on Monday on TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

If the Democrats hope to retake the White House in November, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama must stop their negative campaigning against each other and start talking about the issues affecting the country, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said on Monday on TODAY.

“It’s gotten enormously negative,” Richardson said of the campaign. The governor spoke just days after adding to the acrimony that has increasingly characterized the battle for the nomination when he announced last week that he would give his superdelegate vote to Obama despite the fact that his own state voted by the slimmest of majorities for Clinton.

Richardson said that with Sen. John McCain already the Republican candidate, it’s vital that the battle for the nomination not continue into the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver.

“What you see today is John McCain campaigning, being a statesman, unfettered, raising funds, and what we need is to stop this negativity,” Richardson said. “I think there’s plenty of time between now and the convention to heal the wounds.

“We need to bring the two campaigns together. I think the two campaigns should take a deep breath and stop talking for a while. Just reflect and start talking about the issues affecting the country like the war, like the economy, subprime lending, housing, the enormous problems of gas prices, and stop this internal, personal bickering that is right now hurting us enormously.”

The Clinton campaign has said that Richardson has already done his part to damage the party by endorsing Obama. Clinton supporter and veteran strategist James Carville went so far as to compare Richardson to Judas, who betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver.

Richardson himself had told The New York Times on Feb. 17 that superdelegates had an obligation to vote with their constituencies.

“It should reflect the vote of my state,” he had told the Times. “It should represent the vote of my constituency ... If superdelegates decide this nomination, it’s going to look like big-shot politicians and fat cats decided who should be president.”

‘We cannot afford to continue fighting’
Lauer pointed out that New Mexico voters had chosen Clinton by a margin of half a percent. He asked if Richardson was going back on his statement to the Times.

“Not at all,” he replied. “I’m also a western governor. Sen. Obama has done very well in the West. It was half a percent. It was so close, it was razor thin ... Obama’s won 30 states. He’s 121 delegate votes ahead. He is very strong. He can bring the country together.”

Ten primaries remain for the two candidates, with Pennsylvania’s April 22 vote being the biggest. Richardson said that when those 10 primaries are done, the two candidates and the party need to agree on who the candidate will be and not take the battle into Denver. “We cannot afford to continue fighting and being so negative,” he said.

A measure of the bitterness the campaign has created in the party is a recent poll in which 37 percent of Clinton supporters said they will not vote for Obama if he is the candidate, and 26 percent of his supporters said they will not vote for Clinton.

“There’s the election right there if those voters stick to that,” Lauer observed.

“That’s my point,” Richardson replied.

Analysts have repeatedly held that no matter what Clinton does in the remaining primaries, she cannot catch Obama. But in addition to the pledged delegates decided in the primaries, there are 800 superdelegates, of which Richardson is one. If the elected delegate count is close going into Denver, the superdelegates, who are free to support either candidate, can broker the nomination.

If that happens, analysts say, the party will not have time to heal the rifts and organize a unified campaign against the popular McCain.

“The delegate count, the popular vote is in favor of Obama,” Richardson said. “My point here is instead of having this bitter, contested effort all the way to August, is that we come forth and decide on a nominee based on the reality that the Democrats need to be unified against a very strong John McCain.”