Story Highlights• New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson highlights Hispanic roots, resume
• Richardson acknowledges he's an underdog but says he's moving up
• Iowa poll shows Richardson behind John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama
• Former Clinton White House official touts executive, foreign policy experience
By Sasha Johnson
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson officially entered the 2008 presidential contest Monday in an event designed to highlight his resume and Latino heritage, attributes his advisers say will help him stand out in a Democratic field with little elbow room.
"Some are rock stars, I am not, but I have a proven record," Richardson told supporters in Los Angeles, California, acknowledging that Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have dominated the White House contest so far, both in fundraising and media attention.
Richardson touted himself as a proven problem solver who can "bring people together to tackle our problems at home and abroad."
"We need a president who is not dismissive of diplomacy, but someone who embraces it as the primary instrument of foreign policy because he has practiced it," he said.
The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations called for all American troops to be pulled out of Iraq by the end of this year and said there needed to be a "political compromise" among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in addition to a donor and security conference to help secure Iraq's future.
"Some will tell you that we only have two options: Either stay in Iraq and try to referee a civil war or leave and collapse into chaos. I've spent a lot time in this part of the world and let me tell you this: That is a false choice," he said. "Removing all of our troops and healing Iraq are one and the same."
Richardson touched on the current immigration debate in Congress, calling a bipartisan Senate proposal "a step in the right direction toward establishing a path to legalization. But at the same time it's a step in the wrong direction because it separates parents from children and loved ones from families."
Born in California to a Mexican mother and an American father, Richardson spent his childhood years in Mexico City. Speaking in both English and Spanish, Richardson acknowledged he made his "symbolic announcement" in California because of the state's large Latino population, a voting bloc he hopes to dominate in other states such as Florida and Texas.
California has moved its primary to February 5, 2008, making it a potentially crucial contest.
A Des Moines Register (Iowa) poll released Sunday showed Richardson was the choice of 10 percent of likely Democratic Iowa caucus participants, fourth behind former Sen. John Edwards (29 percent) and Obama (23 percent) and Clinton (21 percent).
The Richardson campaign touted the poll results as a sign of "momentum," sending out a release stating: "Our biggest hurdle is penetrating the media coverage that is mainly focused on the early poll leaders."
Richardson's official announcement was another chance for him to get a little more of that media spotlight.
The event was a bit anticlimactic given that Richardson's candidacy was a given. He raised $6.2 million in the first quarter of this year, participated in last month's televised presidential debate and has been up on the airwaves in Iowa with two irreverent campaign ads designed to highlight what his campaign hopes will be his strongest selling point: his experience.
"The game plan is you stress that I am a governor, I am the only one with executive experience, CEO experience. I have the most foreign policy background," Richardson said.
First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, Richardson served seven terms as a congressman from New Mexico and then went on to work for the Clinton administration in various capacities, including ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary.
"I not only can talk about energy independence and creating jobs and making schools better and global climate change. I have actually done it as a governor, as a member of Congress, as an ambassador, that is what I will stress," Richardson said. "I have actually done some of these things that everybody talks about. I've brought countries together, I have engaged in cease-fires with bad guys."
Richardson was re-elected to his second term as New Mexico's governor last fall with 69 percent of the vote.
New Mexico could be essential to the Democratic nominee taking the White House in 2008. Advisers think Richardson's strong showing in a state John Kerry narrowly lost in 2004 makes him a strong contender.
"He obviously has great support because he was just overwhelmingly re-elected," said Leslie Linthicum, a reporter who covers the governor for the Albuquerque Journal. "I think his biggest downside is this personality that seems hyper ambitious and personally ambitious. In other words, people look at him and think that everything he does is for him and his future.
"He has been in New Mexico for decades, and there is still this feeling that he is using this as a launch pad for his real ambition which isn't really here."
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was re-elected last fall with 69 percent of the vote.
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