Why No Love For Bill?

Matthew Yglesias ponders why Bill Richardson’s Presidential Campaign isn’t garnering more media attention.

This is the sign of a presidential campaign that’s not getting much attention. And that, in turn, is a sign of exactly how weird our presidential nominating process has become.

We’ll leave aside, momentarily, the fact that Richardson is clearly more qualified for the White House than anyone else in the race, since everyone knows that doesn’t matter. Just consider the bare fact that he’s the popular, second-term governor of a swing state — you know, the sort of person who back in the day used to win presidential elections. And it’s not as if Richardson isn’t getting attention because the field is crowded with popular second-term governors of swing states. No. We’re too excited about the first-term senator from Illinois whose only competitive election in the past was against Bobby Rush — and who lost. Or that vice presidential nominee from a losing ticket.

I have to agree with Yglesias on this score–of all the Democrats running, Richardson is far and away the best candidate. Moreover, as Yglesias later points out, the reason why Richardson isn’t getting the media love is, simply put, he’s not famous enough.

Mayors of New York City are always famous, because the people who run the media live in New York. Hence, Rudy Giuliani is a serious candidate (and even Michael Bloomberg is considered a more serious possibility than he should be). John McCain spent all of 1999, 2000, and 2001 chasing positive press and became famous in the process — so he’s a serious candidate. Barack Obama has an extremely interesting personal story and was one of the only Democratic successes in 2004, so he became famous and now he’s a serious candidate. John Edwards got famous running on a national ticket, so he’s a serious candidate. Hillary Clinton’s husband used to be president (you may have heard), so she’s famous and she’s a serious candidate. Most absurdly, Mitt Romney happened to preside over the Massachusetts gay marriage controversy, thus becoming famous and, therefore, a serious candidate.

I don’t think anyone would argue the point here, either. That said, though, I’m not entirely certain that fame as a prerequisite for the Presidency is exactly a new thing. After all, Andrew Jackson became a Presidential candidate for his fame through the Battle of New Orleans and his conquest of Florida, rather than his short and unremarkable stints in Congress. Indeed, W.H. Harrison, Grant, and Eisenhower all three were military men, and all were elected to the Presidency on the basis of those skills, rather than any political experience or talents. JFK became a Presidential contender despite a brief political career, on the basis of his family name and the fact that he wrote a couple of bestselling books.

The fact of the matter is that because of the sheer geographic size of the United States, and the fact that the President is elected at-large, fame for whatever reason is always going to be one of the primary prerequisites for the Presidency. The key for someone qualified like Richardson is to basically hire people with the media savvy to make him famous. Once he’s achieved a certain level of fame, he can then start fighting Clinton, Obama, Edwards, etc. on his terms, and his resume will, I suspect, come much more into prominence. Indeed, I would argue that in the information age we live in now, it will become easier, rather than harder, for Richardson to gain the level of recognition he needs.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Congress, LGBTQ Issues, Political Theory, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. As a Republican, I certainly think Richardson deserves a look from the Dems. He’d make a great candidate.

  2. one bit shy says:

    I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t help but observe that neither Clinton nor Carter were particularly famous nationally when they started their successful campaigns. Our current President had a recognizable name, but not a lot of fame. His brother was probably better known until the blitz of W’s “inevitability” made him suddenly famous.

  3. Bithead says:

    The answer here is simple enough; Richardson is not strident enough to attract the attention of the BDS sufferers the party is being held hostage by.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    If he’s still among the Democratic primary candidates when Illinois’s turn comes around, I’ll be voting for Richardson.

  5. Dean Esmay says:

    Remember, however, that it is very early yet; the primaries are a year away.

    And being a front runner early is in no way an indicator of likely success; indeed, it’s as often a hindrance as anything. It is entirely possible that people will be sick of the front runners by the end of this year. Also, by constantly campaigning all this time, the front runners each massively increase their own odds of uttering a gaffe that scuttles them.

    How famous was John Kerry exactly before 2004? Answer: he wasn’t famous at all except with Vietnam vets and otherwise as a back-bencher Senator from New England.

  6. Eric J says:

    I think the tactic of lying low and only becoming famous in Iowa and New Hampshire has some definite merit in this race. That way a third-place finish in either of those states gets the press, bored to tears with Hilary, Obama and Edwards stories, writing about the “surprising surge” by a “virtual unknown.”

    How old is Richardson? Is he a potential Veep candidate? I think Hilary and Obama are going to get very personal, and I don’t see either of them as a VP candidate for the other. And Edwards would probably find it humiliating to run at the bottom of the ticket again.

  7. Kent G. Budge says:

    As a New Mexico resident, I’ve been trying to warn Republicans for some time not to underestimate Richardson. He is almost as slick as Clinton (having studied under the Master) and projects an image of moderation and probity that is at odds with his political philosophy and ethical history.

  8. Kent G. Budge says:

    To answer your question, Eric, Richardson is young enough that he may well be running for Veep. It’s a proven (if not surefire) path to the top spot.

  9. Rob says:

    Richardson appears quite compelling as a candidate, but having heard at least one of his stump speeches, I’m not so sure his message will resonate. I heard his energy speech, and it was pretty much, warmed-over Carter-era rhetoric — we need better home insulation, windows, etc. (the consumer guilt speech). He never mentioned nuclear power (a palpable absence). I almost sensed that he was trying to latch-on to the politics of Gore’s policies (using global warming as a way to create political power). I think voters are looking for new ideas, especially with regard to energy, and Richardson’s speech didn’t offer much in this respect.

  10. If the nominating process led to the best candidates being put forth, the ’08 election would be Bill Richardson vs. Ron Paul.

    Instead we’re likely going to get Hillary Clinton vs. Mitt Romney.