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Obama names Richardson to commerce

President-elect Barack Obama named New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as commerce secretary on Wednesday, filling a top economic post in troubled times and placing a second former campaign rival in his new Cabinet.

Talking optimistically despite the recession, Obama also said, “We have everything we need to renew our economy, we have the ingenuity and technology, the skill and commitment — we just need to put it to work.”

The president-elect called Richardson a leading “economic diplomat for America. During his time in state government and Congress, and in two tours of duty in the Cabinet, Bill has seen from just about every angle what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better.”

Obama seemed in a lighthearted mood as he made the announcement. Asked about Richardson’s recent decision to shave his beard, Obama joked that he was “deeply disappointed.” He said he guessed Richardson decided to jettison the facial hair after his wife found it scratchy.

Richardson, 61, was United Nations ambassador and energy secretary during the Clinton administration, and he is in his second term as New Mexico’s governor. He also served seven terms in the House of Representatives.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would take over a sprawling department that oversees the National Weather Service,the Census Bureau, economic development programs and more.

One of the nation’s most prominent Hispanic politicians, Richardson pledged — in English and Spanish — to work to renew the economy.

He will become the latest former Democratic primary opponent to join Obama’s Cabinet. The incoming chief executive has chosen another adversary-turned-ally, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to be his secretary of state. Obama also chose former rival Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate.