NEW YORK – Democratic Senator Joe Biden wants you to know he is running for president. Definitely. Unequivocally. Absolutely.
"I'm the only guy who will tell you honestly what I'm doing. The others won't tell you, but I will," Biden said, wrapping up a fundraising trip to New York before heading to New Hampshire, his ninth visit in just over a year. He is also campaigned extensively through other early voting states, spending 17 days in Iowa, nine in South Carolina, and four in Nevada.
In a potentially crowded Democratic field dominated by New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — neither of whom has formally entered the race — a Biden candidacy seems a bit of an anachronism.
But the 64-year-old Delaware lawmaker insists there has never been a better time for him to run.
"Frankly, I think I'm more qualified than other candidates, and the issues facing the American public are all in my wheelbarrow," Biden said. "I know I want to be president, I know what I believe and my message is important."
Considered one of his party's most experienced spokesmen on international affairs, Biden will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next month. He plans immediately to convene a series of hearings on the Iraq war — a high visibility platform for him to showcase his expertise. He has also been actively promoting a detailed plan for peace in Iraq that would divide the country along ethnic lines.
With Iraq and global terrorism likely to remain key issues in the 2008 election, advisers say Biden's credibility in foreign affairs is his greatest asset — particularly for Democrats concerned about Clinton's electability and Obama's short tenure in public life.
Still, observers say Biden's biggest obstacle is likely to be the lingering "been there, done that" perception of his candidacy.
"The problem for Biden is he's old news," said Dennis Goldford, a professor of political science at Iowa's Drake University. "Some people consider him one of the smartest guys with regard to foreign policy. But what makes you a good, experienced legislator is not necessarily what makes you a good presidential candidate."
Polls suggest Biden's candidacy has barely registered with most voters. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of potential Democratic candidates taken earlier this month found Biden won the support of just four percent of respondents. He trailed not only Clinton and Obama, but also former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.
A member of the Senate since age 30, Biden is a career politician in an era where many voters seem to be craving something fresh. And Biden's first presidential bid collapsed 20 years ago amid allegations he plagiarized a campaign speech from then-British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.
Like many senators who've given countless floor speeches, Biden can also be a little long-winded. Grilling then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito last winter, Biden, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked just five questions of Alito and spent the rest of his allotted 30 minutes talking.
But longtime strategist Larry Rasky argued that his garrulous reputation is largely a Washington complaint.
"In places like South Carolina and Iowa, he comes across as very authentic, illuminating, and respectful," Rasky said. "He's a very smart person, and when he talks, no one thinks he's wasting their time."
Despite his generally liberal record, supporters insist Biden will appeal to Republican-leaning voters who have not looked kindly in the past on Democratic senators from the northeast.
"The ability, in the south, for a white male to connect with the African-American community is very important, and he has that," said David Mack, a South Carolina legislator and Biden supporter.
And while Mack acknowledged it would be hard for any Democrat to win a general election in staunchly Republican South Carolina, he said Biden had a crossover appeal that could bring other southern states his way.
Biden, who has about $3.5 million (euro2.65 million) in his campaign account, will formalize his intentions in January when he sets up a presidential exploratory committee. But for him, the race has already started.
"I'm proud of my record," Biden said, "but all the things I care about I'm not likely to make an impact on as a sitting senator."