Richardson Says Oklahoma Could Play Key Role In Presidential Primary

Sunday, March 18th 2007, 1:52 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential hopeful, attended a fundraiser in Oklahoma City Sunday and said the Sooner State's February primary election will play a key role in determining the Democratic nominee in 2008.

``Oklahoma, you're on Feb. 5. You're one of the crucial early primaries,'' Richardson said during the private fundraiser at the home of Oklahoma City attorney Sid Musser. ``Oklahoma may decide the Democratic nominee, and I'm delighted to be here.''

Wearing cowboy boots with his blazer and tie, the 59-year-old Richardson touted his political and foreign policy experience and said he wasn't ready to cede the nomination to other candidates he said had been ``anointed'' by national political pundits.

``I'm not a rock star, but I'm a solid candidate with the best credentials, and I'm going to outwork everybody,'' said Richardson, who switched effortlessly to Spanish when answering questions from reporters from local Spanish-language media outlets.

Born in California and raised in Mexico City before attending high school and college in the United States, Richardson previously served as a congressman and as ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy under former President Bill Clinton.

He criticized what he said was the federal government's failure to address the issue of illegal immigration and said he would focus on increasing border security, improving relations with Mexico and punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants.

He also said he supports some path to legalization for the millions of illegals already living in the United States if they learn to speak English, pay back taxes, pass a background check and ``embrace American values.''

Richardson said his experience separates him from other Democratic candidates, and should help him move up in the polls, where he lags behind New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of South Carolina.

``I'm a candidate who is moving up in the polls. I'm not way up there yet, but I'm moving,'' Richardson said. ``The American people and the people of New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina are going to decide who wins the Democratic nomination, not necessarily the national press in Washington, D.C.''

Oklahoma voters haven't supported a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Before the 2004 election, Oklahoma changed its presidential primary date from March to the first Tuesday in February, a move that drew several Democratic candidates to the state in the months leading up to the last presidential election.

Several Republican presidential hopefuls already have visited Oklahoma in recent months, including U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas and John McCain of Arizona, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

On the Democratic side, Obama is scheduled to make a campaign stop in Oklahoma City Monday, and Oklahoma Democratic Party Vice Chairman Ben Odom said U.S. Sen. Joe Biden also is planning a possible trip to Oklahoma this week.

``We welcome the attention,'' Odom said. ``I think it just shows that people in Washington care about what Oklahoma thinks. We're an important part of the nominating process.''

Also on Sunday, Richardson announced that Jim East, vice president of government relations for Vanguard Car Rental in Tulsa, would be the state director of his campaign.