Most people don't yet know who this guy is, but maybe they should. Richardson's long resume' includes a lengthy career as a congressman and a stint as Bill Clinton's final secretary of energy. (Before the second Democratic debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, the governor's raucous supporters chanted all of his job titles). Elected governor in 2002, Richardson inherited a largely Democratic legislature and a peristently poor state. At a time when other Democrats were defining themselves by their opposition to President Bush's tax cuts, Richardson attacked state taxes. He slashed the top state income tax rate by 40 percent, and he cut the capital gains tax in half. In 2005 the libertarian Cato Institute gave Richardson a B on its biennial gubernatorial Fiscal Policy Report Card-higher, as his flacks love to point out, than the grades received by Florida's Jeb Bush and Massachisetts' Mitt Romney.
According to Cato's election analysis, 72 percent of libertarian-leaning voters supported George W. Bush in 2000. Six years later, only 59 percent backed the Republicans-a significant shift away from the GOP. Bill Richardson could be the candidate who appeals to those disaffected voters. But it's not clear, from his record and from his style of governing, that he'll deserve them.
Richardson has collected unusually warm praise from free market activists and even pocketed a little money from people who donate to libertarian think tanks and causes. The anti-tax Club for Growth summed it up in a cautiously pro-Richardson press release welcoming the governor into the race: "A different kind of Democrat, hopefully."
"He really might appeal to the libertarian vote," says David Boaz, vice president of the Cato Institute. "I've heard a number of governors pegged as 'libertarian Democrat,' and usually when I look into their records, it doesn't hold up. But Richardson comes close." And there's the rub for the Republicans. People want something different this time around. They need to take heed, lest they want another thumpin' come next November.