Richardson Focuses on Western Issues in Nevada Campaign Stop

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Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson sought Monday to play down his underdog status and stress his broad political experience and Western roots in an interview and campaign stops at a coffee shop, high school, union office and Nevada Legislature.

"I know I'm an underdog. I read the polls," Richardson told supporters at Comma Coffee, across this capital city's main street from the Legislature. "But we're moving up."

"I'm not the one who's the biggest rock star or who has the most money - but who has the most experience," added Richardson, pointing to his status as current governor of New Mexico, former congressman, U.S. ambassador, and globe-traveling negotiator and diplomat.

Richardson brought up key Western issues, including water, public lands, alternative energy sources, the environment and immigration - in addition to discussing the Iraq war, education, health care, the economy, transportation and the need for action to help end violence in the Darfur region of Sudan.

While in this wide-open gambling state, Richardson also said he might occasionally play slot machines but otherwise doesn't gamble. He also said during an interview with The Associated Press that he understands the economic significance of the gambling industry and
favors new legislation to overturn last year's congressional ban on
Internet gambling.

"I'm against shutting it down," Richardson said. "This is important to the economy of the state, as long as it's properly regulated and it is."

On water, Richardson said he's considering a plan to have a Cabinet-level water official, adding, "I just believe it's an issue that deserves more attention than being buried in the Department of the Interior."

Richardson also said he favors policies that promote water conservation and desalinization, and negotiations to help deal with issues such as the impact of a massive pumping plan that would bring water from rural Nevada to booming Las Vegas.

On public lands, Richardson noted that 86 percent of Nevada's land is under federal control and "there has to be a way that at the very least the federal domination is diminished." That could involve giving more multiple-use options to state and local government entities, he added.

Richardson also said transportation is as much an issue in the West as it is anywhere in the country, and he supports state-federal partnerships on mass transit projects that would result in broader use of transportation funds.

"The infrastructure of this country is crumbling. What we do with our annual highway budgets is to repave roads. We don't plan ahead," he said.

On gun control, Richardson brought up the recent Virginia Tech rampage that left 33 people dead and said he supports efforts to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and to make schools safer.

But he also said he pushed concealed gun-permit legislation in New Mexico that has resulted in the National Rifle Association favoring him, adding he's a Second Amendment supporter and "I have a permit myself."

Discussing immigration, Richardson, who lived for years in Mexico and whose mother is Mexican, said an extensive border fence is "a bad idea" and "a terrible symbol." He also said arguments against immigrants "sometimes become irrational" and what's needed is a practical solution that protects U.S. jobs and the border but also provides a path to citizenship for qualified immigrants.

Richardson also repeated his opposition to the Iraq war, saying that without a diplomatic withdrawal this country will remain divided and the money needed to advance a strong domestic agenda will be lacking.

Richardson arrived Sunday in Nevada, on a weekend that also saw
presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John McCain in the state. He's scheduled to leave Tuesday following meetings in Las Vegas with union workers and Hispanic activists.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)