Can you say “running mate?”

ap-photo-alex-brandon.jpgNew Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama for president this morning at a joint appearance in Portland, Ore.

“Today I am endorsing Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States because I believe he is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime leader that can bring our nation together and restore America’s moral leadership in the world,” he said. “As a Presidential candidate, I know full well Senator Obama’s unique ability to inspire the American people to confront our urgent challenges at home and abroad in a spirit of bipartisanship and reconciliation.”

Richardson served seven terms in Congress before being appointed by President Clinton to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations and, later, Secretary of Energy; he was elected governor in 2002 and again in 2006. His track record includes negotiating with hostile regimes for the release of American prisoners, and he has been active both in seeking to secure loose nuclear materials and in seeking to end the genocide in Darfur.

Said Obama: “He knows that to secure American interests, we have to talk to our enemies, as well as our friends, which is why he stood up to North Korea and Saddam Hussein to secure the release of American hostages. And that’s the kind of tough, aggressive diplomacy we need to meet the new challenges of the 21st century.”

Richardson’s among the Democratic superdelegates who most likely will end up determining the nomination this year, and could help tip more superdelegates Obama’s way, but I think there could be something more significant going on here.

Ever since Richardson dropped his own White House campaign in January, I’ve been among those saying he’d make a potent running mate for either Obama or Hillary Clinton, but especially for Obama. The nation’s only Latino governor, he would help Obama make deeper inroads into that community, and his foreign-policy chops would help blunt criticisms of Obama’s relative inexperience; Clinton needs less help in both those areas. Richardson would help strengthen either Democratic ticket in John McCain’s southwestern regional home base. And Richardson left the race before he’d said anything too harsh about Obama or Clinton that the GOP could turn back against him later this year.

the-two-bills.jpgI’d been waiting to see whether Richardson’s longstanding ties and loyalty to the Clintons would win out — he and Bill Clinton watched the Super Bowl together last month — but now that he has cast his lot, I’d not be surprised if you see him taking a verrrrrrry active role in Obama’s campaign from here on out.

UPDATE @ 2:24 P.M. FRIDAY: Maybe Richardson waited until now because only now are people and pundits beginning to grapple with the true state of the race for the Democratic nomination: He didn’t want to betray the Clintons’ friendship while she still stood a realistic chance.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.