BOW — Bill Richardson, the Democratic presidential contender with the heavyweight resume — former congressman, U.N. ambassador, energy secretary and now governor of New Mexico — is wrapping up his six-point plan for a Richardson presidency when he suggests that his audience is skeptical of his chance to win.
Despite his credentials — negotiating with despots, balancing a state budget, pursuing global diplomacy, pushing green technology as energy secretary — Richardson has been overshadowed in early debates and polls by rivals with more polish, better name recognition and vastly more money.
"I know you're saying, 'Governor Richardson, we've met him, good guy, good-looking guy, too, good credentials,'" Richardson said to a small but receptive crowd at a backyard house party. "But then you're saying, 'Can he win?' I know you're thinking it. You read the polls."
Such is the plight of the underdog. Even as he seeks to position himself as the candidate with the most experience, Richardson has to persuade skeptics to take his candidacy seriously.
"This should be a race about who's got the best plan for this country, who's got the credentials to lead this country," Richardson said. Several in the audience nodded.
"Not who's the biggest rock star or who has the most money or the most political legacies."
Lacking big bucks, Richardson is politicking voter by voter. The gregarious governor actually holds the Guinness world record for handshaking. He's counting on strong showings, though not necessarily the top spot, in early voting states to catapult him into the top tier.
On the trail, Richardson presents a detailed recitation of what he would do as president, including pulling all U.S. forces out of Iraq within six months of taking office — before taking question after question. He offers his thoughts on energy conservation, the importance of arts in schools and immigration — not shying away from his support for earned legalization.
"I'm trying to convey that I'm a mainstream American governor who's very proud to be Hispanic," Richardson said. "I don't try to be a wedge candidate. I've never wanted to be categorized as a professional Hispanic. I want to compete with everybody.
"I'm asking voters to base their choice on competence, on record, on vision for the country," he said.
With every close, Richardson acknowledges skepticism about his winning. His poll numbers are up in New Hampshire and Iowa, but he jokes that he started out "below the margin of error."
"You're first, you have a special responsibility," Richardson says to about 100 Democrats in Stoddard, who braved a miles-long dirt road to get a look at him. "You've got to cut through all this B.S., all this money and all this fanfare to look at the candidates in the eye and say, 'Are you genuine? Can you lead this country?'"