Joe Biden declares candidacy for 2008 presidential race

Biden declared his candidacy for president on January 31, 2007, although he had discussed running for months prior, and first made a formal announcement to Tim Russert on Meet the Press on January 7, stating he would "be the best Biden I can be."In January 2006, Delaware newspaper columnist Harry F. Themal wrote that Biden "occupies the sensible center of the Democratic Party."Themal concludes that this is the position Biden desires, and that in a campaign "he plans to stress the dangers to the security of the average American, not just from the terrorist threat, but from the lack of health assistance, crime, and energy dependence on unstable parts of the world."During his campaign, Biden focused on the war in Iraq and his support for the implementation of the Biden-Gelb plan to achieve political success. He touted his record in the Senate as the head of major congressional committees and his experience on foreign policy. Despite speculation to the contrary, Biden rejected the notion of accepting the position of U.S. Secretary of State, focusing only on the presidency. At a 2007 campaign event, Biden said, "I know a lot of my opponents out there say I'd be a great Secretary of State. Seriously, every one of them. Do you watch any of the debates? 'Joe's right, Joe's right, Joe's right.'"Other candidates commenting that "Joe is right" in the Democratic debates was converted into a Biden campaign theme and ad. In mid-2007, Biden stressed his foreign policy expertise compared to Obama's, saying of the latter, "I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."Biden was noted for his one-liners on the campaign trail, saying of Republican then-frontrunner Rudy Giuliani at the October 30, 2007, debate in Philadelphia, "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, and a verb and 9/11."Biden made remarks during the campaign that attracted controversy. In January 2007, he spoke of fellow Democratic candidate and Senator Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy, I mean, that's a storybook, man."This comment took second place on Time magazine's list of Top 10 Campaign Gaffes for 2007. Biden had earlier been criticized in July 2006 for a remark he made about his support among Indian Americans: "I've had a great relationship. In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."Biden later said the remark was not intended to be derogatory.

Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. Wednesday officially launched his well-expected candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

It’s a bid predicated on one major assumption: that the race will focus greatly on Iraq and other international trouble spots, putting a high priority on candidates’ foreign policy credentials. And foreign policy experience is something that Biden —chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and scathing critic of how President Bush has handled the war in Iraq — can claim without contradiction.

The 64-year-old Biden, despite his 34 years in the Senate and frequent media appearances, lacks the celebrity factor of the Democrats currently topping presidential preference polls of Democratic voters: Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois — whose combined total of just more than eight years of Senate service measures to less than a quarter of Biden’s own tenure.

This is, in fact, Biden’s second venture into presidential politics, though his bid for the 1988 Democratic nomination was troubled-plagued and brief.

Biden, during an interview on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” that launched a daylong series of campaign kickoff events Wednesday, acknowledged that Clinton is the Democratic front-runner and that Obama is a “real star.” But Biden said that his own experience would be a major selling point at a time when the nation faces many challenges abroad and at home.

“I’m running for president because I think that, with a lot of help, I can stem the tide of this slide and restore America’s leadership in the world and change our priorities,” Biden told reporters in a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I will argue that my experience and my track record — both on the foreign and domestic side — put me in a position to be able to do that.”

Though Biden’s October 2002 vote to authorize Bush to launch military action against Iraq could be a sore point among some hardline antiwar Democratic activists, Biden has since declared that his vote was a mistake. He is far better known today for his outspoken criticism of the administration’s handling of the war.

Biden is the chief sponsor of a non-binding Senate resolution — approved by the Foreign Relations Committee in a largely party-line vote earlier this month — that criticizes Bush’s plan to deploy additional troops to Iraq. That measure declares that it’s “not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq.”

Biden supports restructuring Iraq into a loose federation of autonomous Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni regions in an effort to reduce the fierce sectarian tensions that erupted after the U.S.-driven downfall of dictator Saddam Hussein, have caused widespread and often horrific violence, and have stunted efforts to reconstruct Iraq into a functioning society.

“I would respectfully suggest to you that the Democrats out there understand I am the only person with a plan that can get out of Iraq without our interests in the region not falling apart,” Biden said during the conference call.

Biden also criticized as “incorrect” and “a serious mistake” Clinton’s suggestion that the United States should not fund Iraqi security forces unless that nation’s government takes steps to craft a political solution to the conflict.

Biden, overall, has amassed a mostly liberal voting record in Congress. He has opposed many of Bush’s nominees, including John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court and John Bolton as U.N. ambassador.

According to a Congressional Quarterly vote study, Biden in 2006 concurred with the Democratic Party stand on 91 percent of Senate votes that pitted most Democratic senators against most Republicans. (CQPolitics.com will publish a detailed analysis of Biden’s voting record later this week).

Biden’s Senate seat is actually up for election in 2008, and he would be a heavy favorite to win re-election again. Delaware law would allow Biden to pursue both offices, but that is likely a moot point.

The state’s Senate primary is in September and its filing deadline is in July. Barring a rare pre-convention deadlock for the presidential nomination, Biden by mid-summer 2008 either will have clinched the presidential nomination — or fallen short and returned to focus on his Senate re-election campaign.

• Ready for Liftoff. Joe Biden, as he is familiarly known, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) Wednesday to establish a committee that will enable him to begin raising money for his presidential campaign.

He will not start from zero. Federal campaign finance law allows any member of Congress to transfer money from his or her Senate or House campaign account to a presidential campaign account. Biden had $3.3 million cash sitting in his Senate account as of Sept. 30; year-end figures will be available shortly, as Biden and other Congress members are due by the end of Wednesday to file updated reports to federal authorities.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) joined the 2008 race for the White House yesterday, declaring that he has the right skills and experience to extricate the United States from Iraq without destabilizing the Middle East. But he spent much of the day extricating himself from a controversy over his comments about Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and he eventually issued a statement of regret.

Biden, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in 1988, is staking his presidential hopes on more than three decades of experience in the Senate, where he has risen to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and one of the Democratic Party's leading spokesmen on national security and foreign policy.

Biden said he believes he has the unique set of attributes to get the United States out of the most divisive conflict since the Vietnam War without further damaging U.S. interests around the world. "The next president of the United States, because of the policies of this president, is going to have no margin for error," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America," adding, "I think I have the most experience there."

He is a co-sponsor of one of the Senate resolutions opposing President Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, but also has been critical of other Democrats who have called for what he believes would be a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from the conflict. Last fall, Biden proposed a plan that called for a political settlement in Iraq and for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to be given responsibility over specific regions of the country.

Biden sought to highlight his experience on the day he declared his candidacy, but an interview he gave to the New York Observer, a weekly newspaper, overshadowed his announcement.

In the interview, Biden described Obama as "the first mainstream African American [presidential candidate] who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Asked during an afternoon conference call with reporters to explain his choice of words, Biden said he meant no offense in describing Obama the way he did, then lavished praise on the Illinois senator as a "very special guy" who has caught "lightning in a jar" like no politician he has seen before. "This guy is a superstar," he added.

Biden also said that he had called Obama after the remarks became public and that Obama had taken no offense from them.

Obama later issued a statement that absolved Biden only in part. "I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally," he said, "but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."

After Obama's statement, Biden issued a statement further backtracking. "I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone," he said. "That was not my intent and I expressed that to Senator Obama."

It was the second time in months that Biden has been forced to explain a comment that some interpreted as racially insensitive. In a videotaped exchange with a supporter last June, he said, "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts [in Delaware] unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."

In the Observer interview and in a television interview, Biden also criticized Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's proposal to cut funding for Iraqi security forces if the Iraqi government fails to meet a series of benchmarks.

"I think it would be a disaster, if that is her plan," he said of the New York senator on "Good Morning America." "They're the people we're supposed to be training so that we can rely on them to aid us in the efforts that we undertake."

Biden called Clinton "clearly qualified" to be president but told the Observer the fact that so many Democrats do not support her gave him hope that he could win the nomination. "My point was she's known by 100 percent of the people and has had the legitimate and understandable support from her husband, and there are still 60 percent of the people up for grabs," he told reporters.

Biden was also critical of another presidential rival, former North Carolina senator John Edwards. "I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about" on Iraq, he said.

With his remarks about Obama, Biden began his second campaign for the White House much as the first one ended, arguing that his public comments were being misinterpreted. He quit the 1988 campaign after being captured on videotape adopting the rhetoric and in some cases the life story of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. The video was sent by the campaign of Michael S. Dukakis to the New York Times and eventually led to Biden's withdrawal.

Biden won election to the Senate in 1972 when he was 29 years old. He turned 30 in time to be sworn in the following January. Tragedy struck almost immediately after the election when his wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident, leaving Biden with two young sons. He later remarried and still commutes daily between his home in Delaware and the capital.

A gifted orator, Biden has been plagued by a reputation for being windy and verbose, whether while chairing a Senate hearing or speaking at political gatherings around the country.

"I think one of the reasons we're in trouble is we reduce the political discussion to sound bites," he told ABC's Diane Sawyer. "The American public's a lot more sophisticated than we all give them credit for. And on complicated issues, I'm going to give them straight answers. And if it takes more than three minutes, I'm going to do it."