A Richardson Comeback?

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean (C) shares a laugh with pollster Paul Maslin (L) campaign manger Joe Trippi (2nd L) and consultant Steve McMahon (R, laughing) aboard his charter flight during his 'Sleepless Summer Tour' August 26, 2003 en route to Chicago, Illinois. The ten-city four-day tour is intended to highlight Dean's grassroots support while attacking U.S. President George W. Bush's policies. The Dean campaign hopes to raise $1 million in campaign contributions by the end of the tour.
Political Players is a weekly conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who are shaping American politics. This week, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with Gov. Bill Richardson's campaign pollster, veteran Democratic strategist Paul Maslin, about his candidate's background and ideas--and whether anyone ever really rules out running for vice president. You're the Richardson campaign pollster. Is there any evidence that his message of getting all the troops out of Iraq right now is gaining traction, compared to the rest of the field?

Paul Maslin: Well, to be perfectly honest, we have not polled recently. I will say this: I do think that once the debated shifted away from "what should we do right this second?" to "what would actually happen if any of you people became president?" you had the spectacle of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama standing up there and saying they cannot pledge that they're going to remove the troops by four years after they would have been elected president.

We believe now that we have a pretty propitious situation that is going to lead to increased support for Governor Richardson's position. And I think that Democratic Primary voters are going to be increasingly baffled by the unwillingness of the two front runners to talk about pulling troops out of Iraq. But what about the criticism that it is a nice soundbite to say, "All the troops out now," but who's going to guard the embassy? Are you going to undertake any counterterrorism missions? And who's going to train Iraqi troops?

Paul Maslin: Well, his belief, as he's clearly stated is: Number one, you have to end the war. And the impediment to ending the war, to stopping all the conflict, to stopping a lot of the mess in Iraq between the various parties, is the presence of the American troops.

And we'd be much better served if we want to use them for counterterror purposes, we can stage them outside of Iraq, in the region. And no one's talking about not protecting embassy people. He has said that that is a red herring, put up by people representing other candidates and their campaigns.

Their candidates are essentially committing the American people to several years and thousands of troops, and unfortunately ongoing casualties, for years and years and years. So Governor Richardson believes, contrary to what a number of generals have said, that you can get more than a brigade to a brigade and a half out every month?

Paul Maslin: I'm not a military expert. But if you got them in fast, you can get them out fast. I think there are a whole lot of people saying things for various self-interested reasons. And I can't believe that if there's a will, there won't be a way to have them out of there.

And he said he'll have them out of there within his first year in office. And I don't know how much more clear you can get. If we really want those troops out, we can get 'em out. Is there any risk that the governor is too conservative on gun rights or gay rights to run in a Democratic primary this year?

Paul Maslin: No. Governor Richardson is the one candidate who clearly has made progress from the beginning of the year until now. He's done it in both Iowa and New Hampshire, where the campaign, obviously, has been most intense.

People are responding to him. They like the fact that here's a guy that actually has a record and has done things. And some of the very issues that people care about most--from global warming, to human rights, to education, to jobs, health care--he's got a track record of actually performing.

Unlike other people in this race who are, you know, essentially just the same, you know, "I've never really done it before, but I believe in it. So trust me."

And the fact that he has more diplomatic and foreign policy experience, as UN ambassador, and as a special envoy, and as someone who's negotiated with foreign dictators, all those things are tremendous for his credibility. Governor Richardson is currently failing to win the Latino vote. Which would seem to be his natural base as the only Latino candidate--

Paul Maslin: That'll change the day after Iowa. I think there's still some lack of knowledge that he is Latino. He does not have, obviously, a Hispanic sounding name. I think as he gains in prominence, particularly if he breaks out of Iowa as one of the two or three candidates who have momentum and have a real chance at the nomination, I think our support in the Latino community will grow dramatically. Does he have to finish in the top three in Iowa to keep going?

Paul Maslin: Well, depends on what you mean by "keep going." We don't make any illusions about the fact that we're going to have to do very well in Iowa. And we're going to have to beat one of the people -- at least one of the people ahead of us right now in the polls. So if that means top three, then it's top three.