WASHINGTON - After years of freelancing his diplomatic skills from the unlikely position as governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson is taking the first step toward a bid to become president and put his skills to work in the White House.
Richardson plans to announce Sunday that he will soon file papers to create a presidential exploratory committee, several officials with knowledge of his plans said Friday. The governor is scheduled to appear Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
His entry would make the Democratic race among the most diverse presidential contests in history. Besides Richardson's bid to be the first Hispanic chief executive, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois would be the first black president and likely candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York would be the first female president.
Richardson, 59, is a former congressman, U.N. ambassador and Energy Department secretary. He brings a wealth of experience in international affairs that has extended even into his governorship of a sparsely populated but politically important swing state.
He has hosted talks on North Korea's nuclear program in New Mexico and most recently traveled to Sudan to meet with the country's president to press him for an end to the bloodshed in Darfur.
Both Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., considered Richardson as their running mate because of his impressive portfolio, his potential to win over Hispanic voters and his home in a western swing state.
Yet Richardson enters the 2008 race as an underdog. Polling in early voting states shows him ranking near the bottom in a very crowded Democratic field led by Clinton, Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
Richardson would not reveal his plans Friday during an appearance at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. He only said his announcement would be made in New Mexico before the end of January and that his main priority would be his gubernatorial duties.
"Anything more," he said. "Tune in."
His office had no additional comment.
Richardson was born in Pasadena, Calif. His father was an international banker from Boston; his mother was Mexican. He spent his early childhood in Mexico City, where his father worked for CitiBank. As a teenager, he attended a tony boarding school in Concord, Mass., where he was pitcher on the baseball team - a sport he follows closely to this day.
After graduating from Tufts University in 1971 with a master's degree in international affairs, Richardson worked first as a congressional aide and then for the State Department. He was a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he decided to leave Washington in 1978 to launch a political career.
Richardson settled in New Mexico, partly because of the state's large Hispanic population. In 1980, after only two years in the state, he surprised political experts by coming within 1,000 votes of unseating veteran Republican Rep. Manuel Lujan, who would later serve as Interior Secretary. In 1982, Richardson was elected to the House and then re-elected seven times.
In 1996, President Clinton tapped Richardson to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, where he served until 1998, when he joined the Clinton Cabinet as secretary of Energy. He was criticized by Congress during his two years at the helm of the Energy Department for his handling of alleged breaches of nuclear secrets and the botched case against Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee.
He was easily elected governor of New Mexico in 2002 and re-elected in November with 68 percent of the vote. While governor, Richardson has continued to keep a high profile nationally and served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association as it expanded its ranks with wins across the country.
Associated Press Writer Mark Evans contributed to this report from Albuquerque.
On the Net:
Gov. Bill Richardson: http://www.governor.state.nm.us