Saturday, October 6, 2007

Richardson's South Carolina Co-Chair Quits Campaign, Endorses Biden

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 471

This week was meant to have been a good one for Bill Richardson. Following last week's introduction of a netroots-centric ad praising his position on Iraq, the New Mexico governor and presidential candidate announced a successful fundraising result for the quarter ending September 30 and delivered a major policy address on Iraq and modernizing America's military forces, making a strong push for his idea that the Iraq war will not, and cannot, be ended until every last American soldier has left the country. Richardson also announced an expansion of his campaign staff in Iowa, and a spate of new endorsements from activists, union officials and tribal leaders in various parts of the country, and started efforts to boost his presence in the South, addressing the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus and launching an Atlanta chapter of his "Mi Familia con Richardson" booster club.

Then came news today that Richardson's campaign co-chair in South Carolina, State Representative Fletcher Smith, has resigned from the campaign and switched his endorsement to Richardson's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Delaware senator Joe Biden. Bad enough for Richardson, but worse still was the reason Smith gave for the switch: doubts about Richardson's Iraq policy.

“For me, it comes down to who is best equipped to deal with the war in Iraq. And, over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that Joe Biden is the only candidate with the ideas, leadership and experience to get us out of Iraq without leaving chaos behind,” Smith was quoted as saying in a press release issued by the Biden campaign earlier today. “I’ve had several members of my family, from my grandfather down to two of my siblings, serve proudly in our nation’s military so it’s especially important to me that we end this war in a way that keeps our troops safe and does not require us to send them back in the months or years ahead. I believe that only by adopting Biden’s comprehensive plan for a federalized Iraq will we truly be able to do this and reduce the overall threat to our country.”

“I appreciate how difficult this decision was for State Representative Smith and am honored to receive his support,” Biden was quoted as saying in the same press release. “I look forward to working with him in the coming months and to meeting South Carolinians and discussing with them my plan to make America stronger and more secure after years of President Bush’s failed policies.”

Representatives of Richardson's campaign could not be reached for comment.

State Representative Smith himself isn't an especially high profile figure in the overall scheme of things; it isn't as if, say, Tom Vilsak suddenly bolted the Clinton campaign and pledged allegiance to Mike Gravel. But it is certainly news whenever a high-ranking campaign official in an early primary state switches sides, and there is no doubt that this is as much an embarrassment for Bill Richardson as it is a coup for Joe Biden.

But beyond the "in your face" element of this, what will Fletcher Smith's decision mean for Biden's prospects in South Carolina, or Bill Richardson's, for that matter? Probably not a great deal. Both candidates already had their share of endorsements from current and former elected officials in South Carolina, and Smith's defection would seemingly do little to shake up the contest there. Polling on the South Carolina Democratic primary consistently shows Hillary Clinton far ahead of all challengers there; Richardson is in the low single digits, and Biden polls lower still. But, in the run-up to actual balloting, a smart campaign can use events like this to shape opinion, so we'll have to wait and see what the Biden campaign's actual mileage from this turns out to be.

In the meantime, this probably doesn't turn a good week for Richardson into a bad week. But it does end it on a sour note.

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