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New Mexico's Richardson backs Obama

Latest update : 2008-03-22

Bad news for Hillary Clinton as America's only Hispanic State governor, Bill Richardson, unexpectedly endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic ticket. (Report: G. Cragg)

PORTLAND, Ore., March 21 (Reuters) - Sen. Barack Obama won
a coveted endorsement from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on
Friday while the State Department apologized that employees
snooped into the Illinois Democrat's passport files and those
of his two main White House rivals.

The backing from the Hispanic governor and former
presidential contender is a victory for Obama and could improve
his chances of winning over Latino voters who have leaned
toward New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

A Clinton adviser dismissed the endorsement as not
significant at this stage in the race.

Obama and Clinton are in a heated battle to represent the
Democrats against the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John
McCain of Arizona, in the Nov. 4 presidential election to
succeed U.S. President George W. Bush.

In an embarrassment to the Bush administration, the State
Department revealed on Friday that the passport records of all
three major candidates had been improperly viewed by three
contract employees and by a regular department staffer.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Obama, Clinton
and McCain to apologize and the State Department said it was
conducting an investigation and would look at how to tighten
its systems to prevent such privacy violations.

"It is deeply disturbing, what's happened," Obama told a
news conference.

"When you have not just one but a series of attempts to tap
into people's personal records, that's a problem not just for
me but for our health in this country and so I expect a full
and thorough investigation."

Clinton, who was spending the Easter holiday at home off
the campaign trail, said in a statement she would follow the
probe closely.

The incident revived memories of the political firestorm
that erupted in 1992 after State Department officials searched
former President Bill Clinton's passport and citizenship files
when he was a Democratic presidential candidate.


Richardson, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations and energy secretary during the Clinton administration,
chose to abandon the former president and his wife, saying it
was time for a new generation to lead.

"Your candidacy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our
nation and you are a once-in-a-lifetime leader," Richardson
said as he stood next to Obama in Oregon.

Richardson also ran for the Democratic nomination but
abandoned his bid in January, stating he lacked the funds to
continue after finishing fourth in voting in Iowa and New

Clinton and Obama had cultivated Richardson's backing in
part because he could garner support among the Hispanic
community, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate and a
potentially vital voting bloc.

Richardson praised a speech Obama gave on race earlier this
week and said it touched him as a Hispanic. "This is a man who
understands us and who will respect us," he said in Spanish.

Hispanics largely backed Clinton in nominating contests on
"Super Tuesday," with polls showing her winning two-thirds of
the Latino vote in several states, and it was unclear whether
they might shift to Obama because of Richardson's endorsement.

Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, on a conference call
with reporters, dismissed Richardson's potential impact this
far into the race. "I think that, you know, perhaps the time
when he could have been most effective has long since passed,"
he said.

"We both have our endorsers, but I don't think that it is a
significant endorsement in this environment."

 While saying his "great affection and admiration for
Senator Clinton and President Clinton will never waver,"
Richardson, 60, added, "It is now time for a new generation of
leadership to lead America forward."

A skilled negotiator and diplomat, the popular governor has
been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate or
secretary of state in a Democratic administration.

He is also among the superdelegates whose votes could be
crucial in the nominating contest if neither Obama nor Clinton
wins enough delegates during the primaries.

Obama leads Clinton in the state-by-state contest to amass
delegates who will formally select the Democrat to face

The Arizona senator, who pulled ahead of both Obama and
Clinton in some national polls this week, was finishing up an
overseas trip with a congressional delegation that visited
Iraq, Israel, Jordan, France and Britain.

Date created : 2008-03-21