Sandwiched between portraits of Ronald Reagan and The Eagles on one of Hollywood’s most fabled walls, a photo of presidential hopeful Bill Richardson is strategically placed for all to see. “He needs all the karma we can give him,” says Lucy Casado, the owner of Lucy’s El Adobe Caf across from Paramount Studios, where the photo of the New Mexico governor joins many of the entertainment industry’s greats, as well as her political favorites dating back to Bobby Kennedy. “It’s time,” she says, “America had a Latino president.” But Richardson, the son of an American father and a Mexican mother, may be proof that it may be the era of the Latino everywhere today – except in national politics. Richardson is among the second tier of Democratic hopefuls, lagging behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the polls, in momentum and, most importantly, in fundraising. He reported last week that he’d raised $6.3 million, compared with the $50 million raised by Clinton and Obama together. So Richardson is heading to Hollywood. Here Casado and Lew Werner, businessman and Democratic activist, will be hosting an April 23 fundraiser at her restaurant, which may be one of the few hotbeds of Richardson presidential optimism in Southern California. “Bill Richardson,” insists Casado, who is known in California Democratic Party circles as Attorney General Jerry Brown’s adopted mother, “is going to surprise everyone and make history.” He will have to. Back of the pack With all the moved-up primaries that have made Feb. 5 effectively a national primary, money and fundraising have become all the more important – making things even more difficult for back-of-the-pack candidates like Richardson. But why is it that Richardson – a former Clinton administration Cabinet member, United Nations ambassador and congressman – has failed to generate much excitement, especially among the growing Latino constituencies energized by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s historic election in 2005? “For starters, he’s not a rock star,” says Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State Los Angeles. “He comes from a little-known state, and it’s been the rock stars \ who have been getting all the endorsements, all the headlines and, most importantly, most of the money. “He’s also not well-known even among the nation’s Latinos. Some who recognize the name don’t know if he’s Latino or not. Some don’t think he is. Some are simply confused about it.” Plus, Regalado and other political observers agree, Richardson has to tread carefully with the Latino issue in a political landscape in which immigration has become a polarizing issue. Richardson, currently in North Korea on a fact-finding mission designed to bolster his campaign, understands. “I won’t be running as a Hispanic candidate,” he said in an interview in Los Angeles leading up to his entry into the presidential race. Running as a American “I am running as an American – proud to be Hispanic, proud of my heritage. Ours is a growing, dynamic community in America. But I won’t just be focusing on Hispanic issues or trying to get the Hispanic vote.” It has been an awkward tightrope act. On one side, for political reasons, the Latino aspect is something that Pasadena-born Richardson is consciously downplaying, just as Villaraigosa did in his 2005 mayoral campaign. On the other hand, it has been largely Latinos who have kept the Richardson campaign viable and made him look competitive through the early fundraising frenzy. If he were to be nominated, he would become the first Latino to win a major presidential bid, just as Obama would be the first African American and Clinton the first woman. The April 23 event will be the second fundraiser Casado has hosted for Richardson, who spent much of his childhood in Mexico City. In February, former Clinton-official-turned-lobbyist Mickey Ibarra threw a “Latino Leader” fundraising breakfast for Richardson in Washington, D.C. In Atlanta, a former Latino state senator hosted a fundraiser for him. Ed Romero, a former ambassador to Spain, organized an event that raised $2 million, while Dallas Latino leaders gathered up $50,000 more in that city. But it’s been in Los Angeles that Latino leaders – Villaraigosa and State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu ez among them – have kept their distance while being noticeably more receptive to the overtures of Clinton and Obama. Avoiding question Villaraigosa so far has sidestepped the question of a presidential endorsement. “We’re very fortunate in this country to have such a deep and talented field for the Democratic nomination for president,” he told reporters last month. “Everything has its time and its place.” Political consultant Bill Orozco believes the Villaraigosa-Richardson connection may be among the more interesting to watch over the coming months. “Richardson sent a handful of staffers from the New Mexico Democratic Party to help Antonio in the 2005 campaign,” says Orozco. “But now both men have chips on the table as to who will remain the rising Hispanic star of the Democratic Party.” Regalado even wonders if Richardson isn’t positioning himself for the vice presidential spot on the Democratic ticket. “He’d be a great No. 2 person,” Regalado said. “Don’t bet the farm against it based on what they’ll say – that’s not what he’s shooting for or would even consider. “He would be a tremendously strong \ for whoever tops the ticket, especially with that natural constituency behind him.” Growing numbers The Latinos – their growing numbers make them potential swing votes in Texas, Illinois and Michigan, states with high numbers of Electoral College votes, as well as in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Latinos in Florida are primarily Cuban Americans who are conservative and usually vote Republican. In California, which has 55 Electoral College votes, about one in every three residents is Latino – a total of 14 million people, according to the Public Policy Institute. And that number is expected to increase. Experts also estimate that 14 percent of the state’s 16 million registered voters – or about 2.2 million people – are Latino, with nearly 60 percent of them registered as Democrats. In California, the increasing Latino political presence only reinforces the state’s decidedly Democratic voting history in recent national elections. Meanwhile, Casado has been busy trying to staple together the network of old and present Jerry Brown supporters – the musicians and entertainment people who are regulars at her restaurant and whom she often tapped to raise tens of thousands of dollars for Brown’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns of the past, as well as for his political re-emergence in recent years. “I just got Lyle Lovett on board,” she said after meeting with the singer last week. “He likes Richardson. He didn’t know he was Latino. “He said the same thing I said: `It’s time we elected a Latino president.”‘ firstname.lastname@example.org (818) 713-3761160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!