Kingmakers: Bill Richardson

Because the Democratic Iowa caucuses are as outdated as Alan Keyes, they’re governed by rules that don’t jive with the rest of American democracy. Most offensive is the stipulation that voters can support a second choice candidate if their first choice doesn’t get 15 percent at their local caucus. It’s like an elementary-school recess nightmare, where you’re forced to hang out with the popular kids you hate.

This means that in many caucuses, supporters of Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Dennis Kucinich are going to throw their weight behind one of the Big Three. It’s these votes that may make the difference in the final tally.  

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at who Richardson supporters should pick as their second choice, based on Richardson’s major policies.

Iraq : Richardson supports an immediate withdrawal, even if it means no residual forces. Ron Paul fits this description better than any of the Big Three, but John Edwards wants to pull the most troops out the quickest , so he gets the nod. 

Immigration: The candidates largely share the same vision on immigration, but a flashback to Hillary Clinton’s driver’s license flap is instructive. Richardson and Barack Obama both supported New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to offer driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Clinton infamously couldn’t decide (and then did ), and Edwards hedged his answer . Obama, despite a confusing response during a debate, is closest to Richardson here.

Health care: Nobody really seems all that impressed with Bill Richardson’s health-care plan, including himself . So, this one’s a wash. 

R é sum é : There isn’t a candidate in the Big Three who can match Richardson’s devotion to public service. Clinton narrowly edges Obama because Richardson’s experience lies in hard power diplomacy, not the soft power Obama markets.

Tone: Richardson has rushed to Clinton ‘s aid throughout the campaign, fueling rumors of a vice presidential nod.  

Richardson is running a more national campaign than any of his second-tier colleagues, so he tends to be a forgotten cog in the caucus wheel. But he’s polling at an average of eight percent in the Hawkeye State. Those votes have to go towards somebody on caucus night, and they probably won’t be allowed to go towards Richardson. Clinton-Richardson ‘08?