Eye on '08: Biden Stumbles Out of the Gate With Backfiring Shots at Dem Rivals

Wednesday, January 31, 2007




The following is a new feature from's political unit offering readers updates and the lowdown on newsmakers looking at their 2008 presidential prospects.

P.M. Update

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said he meant no harm nor racist foul when he cracked wise about Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, one of several fellow Democrats seeking the party's 2008 presidential nomination.

"I believe I was quoted accurately, but they weren't meant to be shots," Biden said of a story published in The New York Observer Wednesday. In it, he is quoted saying of 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.”

"My mother has an expression: Clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack. That's the context. He's crisp and clear," Biden said, explaining his comment.

"The idea was very straightforward and simple. This guy is brand new and something no one has seen before. ... Barack Obama is probably the most exciting candidate that either party has produced since I've been around," Biden said.

Asked whether he wanted to throw down the gauntlet and respond to Biden's quoted remarks, Obama refused to be drawn into the fight.

"I am not going parse his words that carefully. ... You'd have to ask Senator Biden what he was thinking," Obama said.

"I don't spend too much time worrying about what folks are talking about during a campaign season," he added.

In an afternoon conference call to discuss his presidency, Biden said he's sure the African-American community isn't taking offense at his description of Obama as "articulate," a no-no that can be traced back at least to the 1996 effort to draft Colin Powell for a run for the president. At the time, comedian Chris Rock slammed the description of Powell as articulate in a riotous stand-up routine that forever put the expression in the trash bin of backhanded compliments.

"I have no doubt Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the rest know exactly what I meant," Biden said of African-American leaders. "They know what I was saying. That this is a special guy. It's like catching lightning in a jar... I really regret that some have taken my words out of context. I've spoken to Barack about it."

Biden also yielded to his colleague to say whether he was offended or not.

"Ask Obama what I thought. He knows what I meant by it," Biden said.

Obama's office later put out an official statement.

"I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, 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," he said.

Biden, who's never been shy to speak his mind, wasn't entirely generous in his appraisal of Obama. In the article, which had plenty of less-than-flattering comments about other 2008 Democratic presidential wannabes, Biden questioned Obama's electability, calling him "a one-term, a guy who has served for four years in the Senate."

Biden added: “I don’t recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan or a tactic” on Iraq.

As for Hillary Clinton, Biden said the New York senator's position on Iraq "baffles" him.

“From the part of Hillary’s proposal, the part that really baffles me is, ‘We’re going to teach the Iraqis a lesson.’" Biden tells the Observer. "We’re not going to equip them? OK. Cap our troops and withdraw support from the Iraqis? That’s a real good idea.”

Biden, whose ideas include dividing Iraq into three autonomous republics divided by ethnic group -- Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite, reportedly said Clinton's policy on Iraq would result in “nothing but disaster,” and he goes on to question the former first lady's electability.

“Everyone in the world knows her,” Biden, 64, told the Observer. “Her husband has used every single legitimate tool in his behalf to lock people in, shut people down. Legitimate. And she can’t break out of 30 percent for a choice for Democrats?"

He also called former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — along with 2004 running mate Sen. John Kerry — "perfect blow-dried candidates," adding that on Iraq, "I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about."

Biden described Edwards' position on Iraq as "like so much Fluffernutter out there."

"So for me, what I think you have to do is have a strategic notion. And they may have it — they are just smart enough not to enunciate it."

Biden conducted a less contentious interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, saying he learned his lessons from his 1988 run at the White House — namely "words matter" and "to lose one's temper is not a good thing."

Biden appeared to have his sense of humor intact Wednesday while listening to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. In it, Kissinger, denied a quote attributed to him in Bob Woodward's book "State of Denial." In it, Kissinger supposedly told then-White House speechwriter Michael Gerson that the United States needed to "humiliate" radical Islam in Iraq.

Kissinger said he "never said anything like that" and expressed disdain for "a kind of journalism" that takes "an alleged quote" and "spins a theory around it." To that response, Biden, the panel's chairman, quipped: "Last time you help him write a speech."

In his announcement of a presidential bid, which appears on his campaign Web site, Biden took a serious tone: "The next president of the United States is going to have to be prepared to immediately step in and act without hesitation to end our involvement in Iraq without further destabilizing the Middle East and the rest of the world. Our safety is at stake."

Breaking News

12:03:36 EST The Republican battle for South Carolina continues. Sen. John McCain's campaign announced that a majority of Republicans in the state House of Representatives are supporting the Arizona senator.

11:00:28 EST Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announces that Iowa's 2006 lieutenant governor nominee Bob Vander Plaats and former House Speaker Pro Tem Danny Carroll will serve as the Iowa chairman and co-chairman of the Huckabee for President Exploratory Committee, calling them "two of the most recognized and respected conservative leaders in Iowa."

Other 2008 Presidential Candidate News

— Bad news, bad luck, and bad timing for Biden in his presidential announcement. Bloomberg News reports his lobbyist son R. Hunter Biden is being sued by a former partner who says he was fraudulently excluded from the purchase of a hedge fund.

— At least two representatives and seven senators are readying White House bids and battling for the support of Capitol Hill colleagues, but they're not likely to hear from top House and Senate leaders any time soon. Roll Call reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are determined to stay neutral for the next few months to avoid splitting the party over the 2008 nomination and each will endorse a candidate only if a clear nominee emerges. That hasn't stopped some Democrats from openly engaging in what the Politico calls the "Pelosi primary," with some like Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd saying they're hoping to win the speaker's support. Meanwhile, The Hill columnist John Fortier reported he has heard rumors that Boehner is leaning towards former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who already has locked up former House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

— The "viral video" of Sen. Clinton's off-key rendition of the national anthem — viewed nearly 1 million times on YouTube since its weekend recording — is just one example of the pitfalls and perils of running a campaign in the age of new media. The New York Times reports Clinton's camp decided not to respond to that clip, which was largely ignored by mainstream media outlets, but all the White House candidates are aggressively monitoring sites like YouTube. They are also using infuential blogs and networking sites to their own advantage in an effort to make the most out of politics' Internet Age while minimizing the threat that the almost instant spread of video and opinion can pose.

— Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced his campaign steering committee in Arizona, home state of fellow contestant McCain. Romney said he snared the "top political fundraiser in Arizona" to be his state finance director, but no big names jump off the page. Still, it's a shot across the bow at McCain, whose campaign told FOX News last week that they were working hard to build a political team in Michigan in part because it's the state where Romney grew up.

— Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback told supporters in Iowa that he will not focus on conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage in his campaign, instead broadening his themes to include issues that have a bipartisan consensus. For the candidate who's been called the true social conservative in the 2008 GOP race, the move shows that Brownback wants to be seen as more than just a one trick pony, concludes the Des Moines Register.

— Former New York Gov. George Pataki still isn't getting much publicity for his Iraq plan, announced last week, which opposes sending more troops to Iraq. His political action committee has launched a new Web site, The Pataki Plan, to promote it.

FOX News' Aaron Bruns contributed to this report.