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Week of 10.3.08

Interview: Gov. Bill Richardson

NOW on PBS Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa spoke with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson about the importance of his state in the upcoming presidential elections, and what he's doing to try to get voters to swing Democrat.

This is an extended, edited version of our broadcast interview with Gov. Richardson.

MARIA HINOJOSA (MH): Why has New Mexico become such a critical state in the presidential elections?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (BR): Every four years, it goes by one percent to one party, then to another party, generally Republican. But it's become so important because presidential elections, at least the last three, have been so close.

MH: You talk about something that you call the "New West." What is this New West, and how important is it in terms of presidential politics?

BR: The New West is what I see as the three deciding states in the presidential election: Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. States that John Kerry lost by a few percentage points. Had Kerry won those three states, even having lost Ohio, he'd be president.

MH: This time around people are watching you to deliver New Mexico for the Democrats. True?

BR: Oh, absolutely. I still have arrows from not delivering it four years ago. We lost it by one percent. Senator Kerry is still mad at me. But I've got to get out there and get the base out. And I've got to raise funds. I've got to get out and campaign like I never have before, as if I'm running, because my reputation and my life are really at stake here, too. And it's so important for the country. Forget about me. I just believe that my state can make the difference in winning the presidency. And I can't afford to let my state lose.

MH: So does that mean that you're out every day?

BR: Every day I do something for the campaign, either media or a rally or an announcement or I travel within New Mexico. I've also been to Colorado and Nevada. The campaign wanted to send me to Pennsylvania and New York and I said "Look, I'll do it. But I'm better suited in the southwest." And they say, "Well, we need to raise money."

MH: So what needs to happen on the ground in order to make New Mexico go for the Democrats?

BR: What needs to happen on the ground is massive, massive organization, massive turnout in the Hispanic areas, which is northern New Mexico, the Democratic base.

MH: So what kind of tactical decisions are you making to get new voters out to the polls?

BR: First, I want these new voters to see Obama physically. Obama's not known in the Hispanic community, and is relatively new on the political scene. Once they get to know him and see him, they'll like him. So it's a matter of retail, of bringing him out. Second is voter registration. We have a goal of thousands in the pre-voting period. Third, it's talking about issues. Talk to Latinos and Hispanics not just in the traditional, here's my immigration position, here's my civil rights position, but talk to them as pursuing the American dream: health care, education, foreign policy, entrepreneurship, working women helping working moms.

MH: Governor, a difficult topic, but one that you're familiar with. Some of our producers who have been on the ground have actually heard community organizers say, "We have a race problem. We have older Hispanics who are more conservative, who say they won't vote for a black man."

BR: There's a little bit of that, but there's a little bit of that with all voters, not just Hispanic voters. There are voters that cling to the past. But that's diminishing. I did hear that more early on in the campaign.

MH: How is getting out the vote different this election year compared to years past?

BR: Today, you can now communicate with thousands of new voters through the Internet; you don't have to use the old phone systems. But the traditional, especially in states like New Mexico, of door to door—compadre to compadre—word of mouth is still important.