Former presidential candidate Bill Richardson endorsed Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama Friday in a significant blow to rival Hillary Clinton's own ambitions of capturing the party's nomination. ( dpa )
Richardson, the governor of New Mexico who served under former president Bill Clinton as UN ambassador and energy secretary, urged Democrats to begin focussing their attention on the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
"It is time for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall," Richardson said at a rally with Obama in Oregon.
"Your candidacy is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our nation and you are a once in a lifetime leader," he said.
Obama hailed Richardson, who has been tipped as a possible pick for vice president or secretary of state, as "one of the great public servants of these United States."
Richarson is the highest profile former Democratic candidate yet to make an endorsement. Both Clinton and Obama had been lobbying hard for Richardson's support since he left the race in January.
Richardson paid tribute to the Clintons and the economic prosperity that existed during Bill Clinton's time in office, but said it was time for a "new generation of leadership."
As a man of Hispanic origin, Richardson said he was especially touched by a critical speech Obama gave Tuesday on race relations. Obama is vying to become the first African-American president, and had so far struggled to gain traction with Hispanic voters in state primaries.
"I've been troubled by the demonization of immigrants, specifically Hispanics, by too many in this country," Richardson said. Obama's "words are one of a courageous, thoughtful leader who understands that a house divided against itself cannot stand."
Obama on Tuesday called for the country to rise above its racial divisions in a speech prompted by the controversy over his former spiritual advisor Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr's incendiary comments about race in sermons.
Obama leads Clinton in the tight battle for delegates to the Democratic Party nominating convention in August, but will need the support of so-called super-delegates - party activists and officials such as Richardson that make up about one-fifth of the total delegates - to clinch the nomination.
Analysts speculated that Richardson's endorsement could prompt other as-yet undeclared super-delegates to throw their support behind Obama.