LAS VEGAS -- Lauding the National Rifle Association is not usually an applause line for a Democratic presidential candidate, but New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson -- knowing his audience -- was cheered when he brought the issue up in gun-friendly Nevada.
``I'm the only Democratic candidate [for president] who's been given an `A' rating by the NRA, Richardson told officers of a pipefitters and plumbers union here. ``I'm a sportsman, like you,'' he added.
Richardson is running behind in national polls but hopes to score an upset win in Nevada, which is scheduled to hold caucuses Jan. 19. With his Western credentials -- including a commitment to gun owners' rights -- Richardson is calculating that a solid showing in the Silver State will keep his campaign alive.
The governor won several enthusiastic standing ovations as he promised to run a pro-labor administration, including appointing a union member as Labor Secretary and cleansing the agency of unfriendly lawyers. ``If I am elected president, I will fire all the union-busting attorneys at the Department of Labor,'' Richardson told the United Association, a labor union with approximately 300,000 members across the country and 5,000 in Nevada.
The union has not yet endorsed a candidate, but UA president Bill Hite said after the event that he was very impressed with Richardson, who he said ``picked up some votes here today.''
Richardson besieged the group not to count him out. ``You're all thinking that - can he win? You all get the perception that this is a two-person race,'' Richardson said. But the final decision, he said, will be made not by the ``chattering class'' in Washington but by people in ``the living rooms of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.''
``America loves an underdog. They love a dark horse,'' Richardson said. ``These little states that are so important in electing presidents -- I believe they are going to send a message.''