Bill Richardson’s World Record

In 1998, Kevin Cole, of Carlsbad, New Mexico set a new world record for farthest spaghetti nasal ejection, by sending seven-and-a-half inches of noodle rocketing from his nose in a single blow.  

In 2001, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta vendors “The Original Breakfast Burrito” also set a record, for the most breakfast burritos sold in one hour at an outdoor event—417.  Wow!  417! 

Then, in 2002, charity workers from Albuquerque set a record for the world’s largest taco.  The soft-shelled taco weighed over 1,600 pounds, measured almost twenty feet long, and took at least twenty-five people to construct.  

So, there’s that. 

New Mexicans, it seems, can be a pretty odd lot—with unusual hopes and goals and accomplishments—but it seems we may be represented by one of our own.  In 2002, in Albuquerque, current New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson set the Guinness Book world record for most handshakes by a politician in an eight-hour period, shaking the hands of 13,392 potential voters. 

Fifty-nine-year-old William Blaine “Bill” Richardson III has been Governor of New Mexico since 2003, at which time, as the son of a Mexican mother and a naturalized American father, he became one of the first Hispanic governors of an American state.  Since 1982, he has served as a congressman, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of Energy, and Governor of New Mexico, and he is currently campaigning to be elected President in 2008.  

His supporters tout him as a Democratic candidate that could actually win—a candidate who has repeatedly been ranked among the country’s most fiscally responsible Democratic governors, and a man who could attract much-needed swing votes with his support of both the death penalty and the right to bear arms.  They point out his amazingly successful diplomatic efforts to release American prisoners in Iraq and Darfur and elsewhere, efforts that have earned him four separate nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize and caused Larry Sabato of Virginia’s Center for Politics to call him “the only governor with a foreign policy.”  

They also point out his willingness to take people seriously—people such as those who demanded and got an official investigation of the mysterious Taos Hum—a willingess shown by the somewhat regular public meetings he holds at which his constituents can line up to personally ask him questions. 

His detractors point out Richardson’s negligence in preventing nuclear secrets from being stolen from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1998—when Richardson was Secretary of Energy—as well as his six-figure investments in a Texas oil company and perhaps-too-genial relationship with the nuclear industry that don’t quite jive with his usually conscious stance on the environment.  John Edwards, a Democratic candidate currently running against Richardson for the 2008 Presidency, even has a hilariously titled article on his website expressing that, “Bill Richardson Supports Wolves Stalking Children”—referring to Richardson’s efforts to restore New Mexico’s wolf population.  Still others have taken issue with him simply on personality. 

“A few years back, while attempting an interview, the governor intentionally stepped on then KUNM reporter Jessica Cassyle Carr’s sandaled foot in the middle of a question,” wrote Steven Robert Allen in a generally Richardson-friendly Alibi article on March 8, 2007.  “[Carr] came to the conclusion that the governor either did not like her question or he did like her toenail polish.  Either way, it was weird, and Richardson ambled off without answering her second question.”   

Whatever anyone has had to say about him, however, everyone has had to admit that the guy can shake hands. 

Even as early as 1980, during his first run for congress, Richardson make shaking hands and personal contact a constant part of his approach to campaigning.  He set a goal for himself never to let a day go by without shaking at least a thousand. 

“Then it was 2,000,” wrote Thomas J. Cole in a January 28, 2007 Albuquerque Journal article.  “He even carried a counter for a while to track his success at ballgames, parades, office buildings—just about anywhere he could find warm bodies.” 

Around that time he set his first world handshaking record, shaking 8,871 hands in one day and making his way into the Guinness Book of World Records

“The first time I met him, he was campaigning in Virginia to help elect Tim Kaine governor,” wrote Ian Samuel, a contributing writer for the Bill Richardson Blog, in a recent e-mail.  “He had read my blog a bit, and reached out to shake my hand…after which, he also reached out and (as we were shaking hands), tousled my hair and sort of gave me a noogie!  Had anyone else done it, it might have been annoying.  But he was just such a nice guy that I couldn’t help but grin.” 

“When you work a room, you’ll have a limited amount of time to do it properly,” Richardson wrote in Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life, his autobiography.  “You can’t have a long conversation with one person; you have to move on.  At the same time, you can’t make someone feel that you’re trying to get rid of them.  So never look over their shoulder.  Always focus on them and look them right in the eye. 

Richardson has also been quoted in an October 31, 2006 Albuquerque Journal article as saying that he disapproves of politicians using hand sanitizers such as Purell after shaking the hands of possible voters.  Politicians ranging from Al Gore to Barack Obama and from George W. Bush to Dick Cheney have been known to slather up with the stuff immediately after working a crowd, but Richardson has said that although he washes his hands regularly, he feels that using such products comes across as disrespectful to people…and he seems experienced enough to know. 

“I just won’t use the sanitizer,” Richardson said.  “I’ve been offered it, but I’ve turned it down.  I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.” 

On September 14, 2002, the New Mexico State Fair was in full swing, in Albuquerque.  That evening, the New Mexico Lobos played the Baylor Bears at UNM’s University Stadium, winning with a score of 23 to 0.  Lobo fans gathered afterward in the parking lot to drink beer and celebrate.  

At both of these events, Bill Richardson roamed through the crowds, his right hand extended, a Guinness Book official and a clicker-wielding Richardson staffer following behind him.  At the time, Richardson was seven weeks away from New Mexico’s 2002 gubernatorial election.  

“The reason I did this was to show we have a grass-roots campaign and that politics can be fun,” Richardson told the press at that time.  “Politics is people.”   

That day, Richardson shook 13,392 hands, the most handshakes ever by a politician in eight hours, a record that still stands and that helped him into both “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” and the Guinness Book.  

That night, Richardson’s right hand was so stiff and so sore, that he shoved it into a bucket of ice, just as soon as his handshaking marathon had concluded. 

“My observations have led me to believe (that) Richardson is a man for whom nonverbal communication is just as important as what is said,” wrote Heath Haussamen, an Albuquerque Tribunecolumnist, in a recent e-mail.  “When he’s speaking to a camera or a massive group of generic faces, he’s lost.  Watch him have a one-on-one conversation or work a room, however, and he’s brilliant.  …He’s a master at speaking with a person for thirty seconds, looking deep into that person’s eyes and shaking his or her hand and leaving that person with the belief that he or she has made a genuine connection with a man who is destined for greatness.  He’s also tireless.  Few politicians have the energy to shake 14,000 hands in eight hours, and Richardson’s feat is a testament both to his determination and the power of caffeine.” 

Richardson’s critics have sometimes tried to dismiss this record as something done out of simple publicity hounding or vote whoring, but they can’t dismiss the 13,392 hands shaken in a mere eight hours.  That’s a feat.  That’s 1,674 handshakes every hour, 27.9 handshakes every minute, one handshake every 2.15 seconds, for eight hours straight. 

That’s 4,879 hands more than the 8,513 that President Theodore Roosevelt shook at a White House dinner in 1907—after which Roosevelt stood alone in his upstairs bathroom, scouring his tired hands and cursing the dirt and germs of the filthy, filthy, filthy masses.  (Roosevelt still holds the Guinness record for most handshakes by a Head of State.)  

That’s 9,738 hands more than the paltry 3,609 hands that House Speaker Newt Gingrich shook in 1998 at a picnic in Washington state, a number that, through some sort of Guinness loophole, seems to have ignored Roosevelt’s record and earned Gingrich the world record for most handshakes by a national political figure.  

And it’s 4,682 hands more than the 8,170 hands that Joe Harrington, Mayor of Limerick, Ireland, shook on St. Patrick’s Day of 1998—the last hand being U.S. President Bill Clinton’s—a record for the most handshakes by a local public figure.  

It is not, it must be admitted, more handshakes the the most ever shaken by anyone.  That record belongs to Yogesh Sharma, an evidently genetically-engineered human being who shook an unbelievable 31,118 hands in eight hours at a trade fair in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India, in 1996—that’s 3,889.75 hands shaken every hour, 64.8 shaken every minute, and one handshake every 0.925 of a second.  

…It’s enough to make a person wonder if a maybe Sharma had a palsy-affected friend working the clicker. 

Richardson may have shaken fewer hands than Sharma did, but in 2002, voters seemed to think Richardson’s feat was the sign of a person just impressive enough—or just strange enough—for New Mexico, for the Land of Enchantment, for the land of spaghetti-snorting young men and the builders of twenty-foot tacos—and they elected him in a landslide. 

Now it’s going to be interesting to see if America is strange enough for him. 

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