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Obama Scores Richardson Endorsement

From CBS News' John Bentley:

PORTLAND, ORE. -- The coveted endorsement of Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., went to Barack Obama today, despite Richardson's tenure as Energy Secretary under Bill Clinton. Richardson praised Obama's speech on race that he gave Tuesday as one of the key reasons for his endorsement.

"As a Hispanic-American, I was particularly touched by his words," Richardson said, to cheers from thousands at the Memorial Coliseum. "His words are those of a courageous, thoughtful and inspiring leader, who understands that a house divided against itself cannot stand."

Richardson also revealed another reason for his endorsement – the equivalent of passing notes during a test. During one of the numerous Democratic debates Richardson participated in when he was still a candidate for the Democratic nomination, he said his mind wandered and he didn't pay attention to a question that was asked to him. "He could have thrown me under the bus," Richardson said, but instead Obama whispered to him, "Katrina." "So I went on to give my answer about Katrina," Richardson said.

Richardson was all smiles during his remarks and, humorously, the press was inadvertently tipped off to one of those smiles.

In an e-mail from the campaign with Richardson's prepared remarks, at the point right before Richardson was to say, "Barack Obama, you are an extraordinary leader who has shown courage, sound judgment and wisdom throughout your career," the campaign left a brief stage direction in the e-mailed speech. "[Turn toward Obama and smile]," read the e-mail, which Richardson did, incidentally.

Obama said he was "deeply honored" to have the endorsement. "Whether it was as a congressman or cabinet secretary, ambassador or governor, there are few more distinguished public servants in America than Governor Richardson," Obama said. "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."

Both Hillary Clinton and Obama had been courting Richardson's endorsement since he dropped out of the presidential race on January 9. Richardson said he still had great affection and admiration for the Clintons, but felt it was time for a change at the top of Democratic Party. "It is time for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall," Richardson said. "It is now time for a new generation of leadership to lead America forward."

The Clinton campaign downplayed the endorsement. "We respect Bill Richardson, but both of us have many great endorsers and the voters, not endorsers, will decide this election, and there are still millions of voters in upcoming contests who want to have their voices heard," said Clinton spokesman Jay Carson. "Despite the Obama's campaign's push to disenfranchise Florida and Michigan and end this primary early, we believe everyone's vote should count."

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