New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson began a run yesterday for the Democratic presidential nomination, betting that his deep resume and Hispanic heritage would boost his chances in a field already stocked with better-known candidates.

"I am taking this step because we have to repair the damage that's been done to our country over the last six years," Richardson wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "Our reputation in the world is diminished, our economy has languished, and civility and common decency in government has perished." Richardson also announced his intentions - in Spanish and English - on his campaign Web site.

Richardson will file paperwork today establishing a presidential exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission, but will not formally announce his bid until New Mexico's legislative session ends in March.

His announcement came just one day after New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined the race and less than a week after Illinois Sen. Barack Obama made his intentions clear. Polling done in early voting states shows Clinton, Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in the Democrats' top tier.

Richardson joins a group running behind the top three that includes Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Richardson's candidacy is a historic one, as he seeks to become the first Hispanic president of the United States. Although Richardson said his ethnicity was not a point of emphasis in the campaign, it could help his chances. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States and are becoming increasingly active and influential in the country's politics.

While acknowledging that he was not yet on the level of the front-runners, Richardson argued that he alone in the field had a record of creating solutions to tough problems. "I can talk the talk and walk the walk," he said.

Richardson spent 15 years in Congress before being named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1997 by former President Bill Clinton. A year later, he was appointed energy secretary. Richardson returned to elected office in 2002, winning the gubernatorial race. Last fall he cruised to a second term with 69 percent.

Throughout his career in public life, Richardson has also served as a roving diplomat - dispatched to defuse crises in hot spots including North Korea and Iraq. He spent several days in Sudan last week before returning stateside to make his presidential intentions known.

On Iraq - the issue which most animates Democratic primary voters - Richardson has called for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops to be completed by the end of this year. "There is no military solution," he said.

Regardless of the strength of his resume, Richardson faces a rocky path to the nomination. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, just 1 percent of Democratic voters said they would support Richardson in a hypothetical primary race. By contrast, Clinton took 41 percent, Obama 17 percent and Edwards 11 percent.

Asked how he could compete with nationally known candidates such as Clinton and Obama, Richardson pledged: "I'll outwork them."

In the Running

A year before the first primary votes are cast, the 2008 presidential field is growing fast. The candidates who have announced that they are running:

Democrats

Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton

Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack

Republicans

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani

California Rep. Duncan Hunter

Arizona Sen. John McCain

Texas Rep. Ron Paul

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson

- Associated PressEndText