Richardson fights to hit home with N.H. voters
Touts his N.E. connection, experience
By James W. Pindell, Globe Correspondent | December22, 2007
HUDSON, N.H. - Before he was a US Senate aide, a congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, secretary of energy, governor of New Mexico, or a Democratic presidential candidate, Bill Richardson was a tall, lanky17-year-old standing on Lowell Road in Concord, Mass., looking for a ride.
Luckily for him, Barbara Flavin had room in her green station wagon.
Flavin lived across the street from the Middlesex School, a boarding school in Concord that Richardson attended. It was customary for local people to pickup the Middlesex students in town and give them a ride to the school, three miles away. Flavin knew of Richardson because she and her mother had watched him play baseball. She offered him a ride that began a seven-year courtship that led to a wedding in Medford, Mass., and 35 years of marriage.
"I remember thinking how pretty she was," Richardson said in an interview, reminiscing about the day they met, with Barbara at his side and smiling at the compliment.
This is a presidential primary season crowded with many candidates, but the lower-tier candidates struggle to get coverage and distinguish themselves from the pack. Yet even though he has lived in New Mexico since 1978, Richardson could make an argument that he is almost as much a New Englander as campaign rival Chris Dodd, the Connecticut senator.
After all, Richardson's grandparents lived in Winchester, Mass. He attended high school at Middlesex and then went on to get two degrees from Tufts, in Medford. He pitched a season in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Barbara earned a degree at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H. Her parents still live in Concord, Mass., the historic town 20 miles northwest of Boston. Her best friend lives near Keene, N.H. They vacation annually on Cape Cod.
Being a New Englander has been a plus for many presidential candidates in the New Hampshire primary. Of the 12 contested Democratic primaries in NewHampshire, a New Englander has won five times.
As he campaigns in New Hampshire, Richardson and his wife remind voters of their New England roots. He wears a Red Sox jacket during parades, and Sox great Luis Tiant stumped for him in New Hampshire this week. He even tried his hand with candlepin bowling, a New England tradition, in front of cameras. When Barbara is with him, as she was Wednesday at a town hall-style meeting in a high school gymnasium, he talks about her degree from Colby-Sawyer.
"When he brings up things like Colby-Sawyer, you can see people in the audience saying 'Oh,' like they recognized," said state Representative John Knowles, a Hudson Democrat who is supporting Richardson.
Knowles's wife, Mary Ann, who is also a state representative and the Hillsborough County Democratic chairwoman, said, "It is not the piece of his resume that is the most impressive, but it is certainly something that warms people up to him rather than thinking, 'Who is this guy out of the middle of nowhere, New Mexico, coming to New Hampshire?"
In their first joint interview with a newspaper in the campaign, Barbara said her Massachusetts roots have shaped her in terms of her appreciation forhistory and reading, although she now longs for New Mexico, because of its peacefulness and beauty.
Like the array of political spouses who keep their own campaign schedule -Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards, Jeri Thompson, Michelle Obama, Ann Romney, Elizabeth Kucinich - Barbara is supportive of her husband, but said it is not her style to stay on the trail.
"I am a very private person in a public life," she said. "But Bill gets so much energy when he is campaigning."
Richardson grew up with a very demanding father, who was raised in Lawrence,Mass., to a demanding father himself. Richardson's grandfather was a well-known naturalist who went on expeditions for the Smithsonian Institute to South America, including one trip where Richardson's father was born abroad.
After Richardson's father graduated from Tufts, he moved to Mexico City,where he was a banker and married his secretary, Maria, who still lives in Mexico.
In an interview with the Globe earlier this year, Richardson explained that his father "had a complex about not being born on American soil."Because of this, he put Maria on a train from Mexico City to Pasadena, Calif.,to give birth to Bill. Were it not for his father's insistence, Bill Richardsonwould not be eligible to be president.
In selecting a president, most New Hampshire voters said they could not careless about where a candidate is from.
James Battos, 59, of Hudson, said he had no idea of Richardson's local connection, but that it doesn't make much of a difference to him.
"It doesn't affect my opinion at all," Battos said. "I am more interested in his role as UN ambassador." He likes Richardson because of his position on the war and the belief that he can repair America's reputation abroad.
Polls show that while many voters like Richardson, roughly 10 percent said they will vote for him in the upcoming New Hampshire primary, placing him behind Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards.
In a Democratic race that is largely framed around Obama's argument for change versus Clinton touting her experience, and Edwards's argument that he is the most electable in the general election, Richardson argues that he can bring more to the table than all three. He says he is more progressive than Obama on healthcare, education, and Iraq, and he has a much thicker resume than Clinton and has been elected to office more times than all three combined.
But because Clinton and Obama have raised so much money and are so high-profile, many voters, such as Frank Fahey of Claremont, said Richardson doesn't have enough viability to get his vote.
"If he were higher in the polls, it would be much more likely I wouldvote for him," Fahey said after hearing Richardson speak.
With less than three weeks until the New Hampshire Primary, Richardson is imploring audiences to stick with him.
"New Hampshire likes the underdog and the comeback story,"Richardson told an audience in Claremont.
New Hampshire Communications Director
Bill Richardson for President