If the contest for President of the United States was about the best qualified and experienced man, or woman, for the office, then Bill Richardson would surely be the frontrunner.

The Governor of New Mexico chose the eve of the State of the Union address to announce his candidature for the Democrat nomination. Perhaps he thought a comparison of the substance and quality of his public service with the paucity of that of the incumbent would be best highlighted then?

Bill Richardson is an outsider in the contest for the Democrat nomination. In the polls he trails way behind Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Hussein Obama and John Edwards.

He has just been re-elected with 69% of the popular vote as Governor of New Mexico. His website reveals a Governor with a far-sighted and comprehensive agenda on water, climate change, energy savings, a balanced budget, small business growth and jobs growth. Sounds familiar?

His earlier public service record would be hard to match. He served for fifteen years in the US Congress – holding 2,700 halls meetings in that time. How many of our MPs hold even one a year? In 1997 Bill Clinton appointed him Ambassador to the UN.

Just a year later Richardson was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate as Clinton’s Energy Secretary. He was a champion of clean and renewable energy technologies and was among the first to warm about the impact of climate change.

After the Clinton Cabinet left office, he was made Chairman of Freedom House, a respected, non-partisan organisation promoting democracy worldwide.

He also became a Fox News, yes Fox News, contributor! Not bad for a Democrat. (Incidentally, Fox News viewers overnight gave the Bush State of the Union address an 85% “excellent” rating!) In that role he was years ahead of the pack – not to mention Australia’s political leaders – in identifying the enormity of the challenges climate change presented.

Richardson is Hispanic, and the Hispanic vote is increasingly important in the USA, but that is unlikely to be enough to secure him the Democrat nomination. His power base in the Democrats is simply not big enough.

But, watch out for Richardson to loom as a serious vice-presidential contender if Hillary Clinton or John Edwards secure the presidential nomination.

I doubt if candidate Barack Obama would want a Hispanic as his running mate, but his appeal to other candidates ought to be obvious – Hispanic, qualified, experienced in national government, and very articulate!