Richardson Highlights Hispanic and Western Roots

LOS ANGELES (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's strategy for winning the Democratic presidential nomination against better funded and more famous rivals includes a focus on his Hispanic roots and leadership of a Western state.

That explains why he chose to officially launch his presidential campaign Monday in California, a state with newfound prominence in the 2008 campaign.

Richardson is hoping changes to the primary calendar that give new clout to several states with large Hispanic populations can increase his chances of victory. Among those new powerhouses are Nevada, Florida and California, the most delegate-rich state which will hold a primary Feb. 5.

California also is Richardson's native state, thanks to some careful planning by his father. William Blaine Richardson Jr., an American banker living in Mexico City, sent his Mexican wife to the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena to give birth to ensure there would be no questions about his child's citizenship.

Richardson's formal announcement was coming a day after his campaign got into a dispute with the mother of a New Mexico soldier killed in Iraq over details surrounding his death.

Richardson often talks on the campaign trail about how he was inspired to create a $250,000 death benefit for fallen New Mexico National Guard members because of the low amount Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin's mother got from the federal government.

Austin's mother, De'on Miller, of Lovington, N.M., told The Associated Press in an interview she never mentioned money to Richardson at her son's memorial service. But Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley said the governor stands by his story that Miller thanked him for an initial $11,000 in federal death benefits she had received.

Miller, however, continued to deny Richardson's version of the story.

"Bill Richardson needs to stop pushing this lie," Miller said in an e-mail to campaign and AP. "Aaron's name had better not be used again in any way. Not mine either. A full written apology is due me for this."

Shipley acknowledged that Richardson got the details wrong sometimes when telling the story. Richardson said at least once that the Marine's name was Sean Austin and at least twice that he was 17 instead when he was 21. He also has called Austin the first New Mexico soldier to die in Iraq, but he was the third.

The campaign was hoping the dispute would not distract from Richardson's formal announcement. He planned to start the day doing interviews with Spanish-language media before holding a press conference at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Then he planned a fundraiser at the exclusive Regency Club before returning to New Mexico Monday night.

Richardson has been running for the Democratic presidential nomination for several months against Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden; former Sens. John Edwards and Mike Gravel; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich. But he was officially in an exploratory phase and had to balance his campaign duties with New Mexico's intensive legislative session.

He raised $6.2 million in the first three months of the year - about a quarter of what Obama and Clinton brought in and less than half of what Edwards raised. But his campaign always said he would focus more intensely on fundraising after the first quarter.

Richardson has been New Mexico's governor since 2003. He also represented the state in Congress and served as President Clinton's energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations.