Richardson claims first place among second-tier candidates

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said yesterday that he is “alone” on the second tier of Democratic presidential candidates, claiming a solid lead over his closest rivals — Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.).

“We’ve moved into a solid fourth,” Richardson told reporters.

Speaking at the Latino Leaders Luncheon Series, Richardson told the crowd he had moved from registering 1 percent in polls up to 8 percent since getting in the race in late January, putting him in fourth place in the contest, behind Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Barack Obama (Ill.) and ex-Sen. John Edwards (N.C.).

“You know I’ve got to move up a lot more,” Richardson joked.

After the event, Richardson told reporters he “can feel it in my bones” as he travels the country that despite polling, voters are mostly undecided.

The most recent major polls released do show Richardson in fourth place, with both Zogby and the Cook Political Report showing him with 5 percent support.

Other polls that include former Vice President Al Gore as a candidate move Richardson into fifth with only slim margins over his nearest rivals.

Dodd’s camp declined to comment on Richardson’s assertion. Biden’s campaign did not return a call for comment.

On the fundraising front, Richardson conceded afterward that he will not be able to raise as much money as the frontrunners, but said his numbers would be “respectable,” cautioning one reporter to wait for the second-quarter figures.

During his brief speech, Richardson spoke, at times in Spanish, about his upbringing as the child of a Mexican mother and an American dad. He joked about the times Hispanic political leaders advised him to use his middle name, Lopez, when he ran, “but it didn’t fit on a bumper sticker.”