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Frustration with Washington makes 'experience' a liability

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  • Most-experienced candidates have dropped out of Democratic race
  • Barack Obama's message of "change" has resonated with voters
  • Frustration with how Washington works makes experience less appealing
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From Dan Lothian
CNN Boston Bureau
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COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) -- If experience were the only qualification, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson would be a shoo-in for president.

But with frustration with the political system running high and candidates who call for "change" enjoying success on the campaign trail, experience scores few points with voters -- and, in fact, may be a liability.

Richardson, a former congressman, ambassador and Cabinet member, couldn't get any traction during his presidential run, and he announced Thursday he was dropping out of the Democratic race.

"The time has come to end my quest and come home to tackle the challenges before us in New Mexico," Richardson told cheering supporters in his state capital of Santa Fe. Video Watch Richardson bow out of the race »

In his final debate Saturday, Richardson seemed frustrated by the notion that experience was a liability.

"Look, what we need is change. There's no question. But, you know, whatever happened to experience? Is experience kind of a leper?" Richardson asked. "What is wrong with having been, like myself, 14 years in the Congress, two Cabinet positions?"

After all, two other veteran politicians, Sen. Chris Dodd, a five-term senator from Connecticut, and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, had already dropped out after their poor showing in the Iowa caucuses last week.

They all have the kind of experience that voters say still matters.

"I want somebody that knows what they're doing," said Dennis Butt, a South Carolina resident. "I think you need the human element to get their personal votes, but I expect them to have some experience so I know they can handle themselves in a position, whether it's confronting a question on taxation or a question about a military movement."

But Charles Bierbauer of the University of South Carolina says many voters are looking for much more.

"We want people who understand what's going on, but those aren't always the people that excite us," Bierbauer said. "And so you see lots of candidates running on the fact that they're not insiders."

Voters "want people who they're comfortable with; they're confident with," Bierbauer said, "and they know have good advice coming to them."

Jayson Ertter, another South Carolina resident, said frustration with the current political system has given experience a bad name.

"People don't like what's going on in Washington," Ertter said. "So they don't want somebody who's been there for decades or 20, 25 years, they want somebody who is new."

"People keep talking about experience being a president," Ertter added. "There's not a single candidate that's been president before, so they don't have any experience being a president."

In the Democratic presidential race, Sen. Barack Obama got attention with his message of "change." And that theme is now part of Sen. Hillary Clinton's message, after she initially built her campaign on experience.

"Change, change, change -- you hear it from every candidate now, even those who might normally be touting their experience," Bierbauer said.

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Voters say the message and issues are critical, but that's not all.

"I think its, you know, the whole package," said Ilsy Ventura of South Carolina. "You know, you can have lots of experience, but if you don't have the personality, then its not going to get voters." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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