DES MOINES, Iowa -- Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson thinks the race for his party's nomination will be all but over by the end of next January after the first four contests.
The Democrats' tentative nominating schedule begins in January, with caucuses in Iowa and then in Nevada, followed by the New Hampshire primary and then South Carolina's Jan. 29.
"I believe the first four states, with Iowa and New Hampshire being the top ones, will determine who the president is. I always felt that way," Richardson said Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Iowa.
The New Mexico governor defended his push to move up Western states in the election calendar, saying the new schedule would not diminish the role that Iowa and New Hampshire play in picking a nominee.
Richardson spoke following a packed weekend schedule that included a half-dozen house parties and time with Iowa bloggers. He said the small-group events are indicative of the type of campaign he will run.
"I have my own plan to convince the voters I'm the best candidate," he said. "It's called grassroots campaigning. You know, debates, issues and discussions."
In a crowded field, the candidates with the most name recognition and fund raising are Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, along with 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
"What the pundits say about who's in, who's out, who's got the most money doesn't matter," Richardson said. "I have a sustained plan to introduce myself to the voters ... and so far I feel very satisfied."