Howard Dean's New Mexico Love-In

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, left, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson meet with reporters in Albuquerque, N.M. Nov. 19, 2003.
CBS News Reporter Eric Salzman is traveling with the Dean campaign.

"Please don't frame it that he's endorsing Gov. Dean, because he's not," a spokesperson for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday after the two governors held a joint press conference in Albuquerque.

As chair of the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Boston, Richardson, one of the nation's highest-ranking minority politicians, may not formally endorse any of the Democratic candidates competing to be their party's nominee for president.

But yesterday, appearing before reporters with Dean after a private meeting, Richardson paid the highest of compliments to the doctor turned politician.

"Gov. Dean has an impressive array of endorsements from New Mexico from Hispanic and Native American leaders," Richardson said. "Literally, my organization's endorsed him."

His organization?

When Richardson's office was pressed for an explanation on just what the governor meant by his "organization," the response was simply "his coalition of supporters." Richardson's choice of words, however, seemed intentional.

New Mexico is one of the seven key primary states on what has turned into a mini-Super Tuesday on February 3. The other states selecting their nominee that day are South Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, Oklahoma, Arizona and North Dakota. Because of New Mexico's high minority population, it is viewed as particularly important, as is South Carolina because of it's "first in the South" status.

Although both Dean and Richardson insisted that their joint appearance did not constitute an endorsement, love was in the air. Richardson, while claiming the event was merely to "welcome" Dean, stated, "I can categorically say in New Mexico, he has the strongest organization."

Dean returned some of the love Richardson's way, calling the New Mexico governor, "one of the foremost and important political figures in this country."
Richardson acknowledged he had played host to other Democratic candidates including Sen. John Edwards and Sen. John Kerry. However, he quickly added, "I'm very impressed with the fact that the governor had not just swooped in and out, but he's been here several times."

Prior to the event, Dean appeared with more than a dozen New Mexico political who have endorsed his candidacy, including former governor Toney Anaya and Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez.

By Eric Salzman