Biden Fans Ask: Why Not Take on Rivals 'Head On'?
ALLISON, Iowa -- It was an unusual moment for anyone who knows Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. The man was speechless.
Midway through a 90-minute session in the library of this small farming town, J. R. Ackley, who owns an insurance business in Marble Rock, noted that the top three Democrats in the field - Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards - have mighty short Senate resumes compared to Biden, who was elected in 1972.
"It's like three witches sitting around arguing about who's ugliest," Ackley said. "Hillary Clinton, her claim to fame is she's spent time in the White House. Why haven't you taken these guys on head on? I understand it's hard, but the disparity of experience and ability is so great, it's not even funny. And yet they're the ones getting all the press."
Most Democrats at the back of the '08 pack, Biden included, have avoided taking shots at the front-runners. As Ackley, wearing a Biden t-shirt, egged on his candidate, Biden stood at the front of the room, head lowered in his hands, face reddening.
"Thank you for your assessment of my capabilities," he responded. "I admit I've been reluctant. My career in public life and the way I've run all the time is, I've run based on what I am and what I can do, not what the other guy is or isn't."
But there are a few mild discrepancies.
"For instance, Sen. Clinton has done really good work. She points out she's been working for people for 35 years. And she has. It's true...But while she was doing that work, I was passing laws," said Biden, noting several legislative victories related to child welfare, a Clinton priority since her law school days.
He moved on to Obama. "Sen. Obama [is] talking about experience and change. He's a great guy...I was a public defender. I spent times in the projects. That's where I come from. That was my experience. I would suggest I probably have as much experience working with minority people as anybody running for president, just based on my resume and my record. But when you do that, it comes off I think in the press, as somehow criticizing them, rather than laying out who you are."
Next came Edwards' turn.
"John, I love John. John talks about how supportive of labor he is. And he is supportive of labor. But when John was the senator from North Carolina he didn't walk any picket lines." North Carolina is not a labor state, Biden noted. Delaware, his home state, most certainly is, and he mentioned a few prominent strikes during the 1970s "that cost me dearly politically."
Biden continued, "I walked picket lines. People don't have to wonder whether under pressure I will do the right thing. But when you do that, it makes it sound like John is not pro labor. John is pro labor. He's not as pro labor as I am. Because I have the scars on my back to show you."
He concluded on a more personal note, recalling the death of his wife and baby daughter in a car accident shortly after his first Senate election, and later, the two major brain surgeries that nearly cost Biden his life. Political advisors have urged to him to speak more of his struggles on the campaign trail.
But Biden told the crowd, "I'm not good at talking about it. I acknowledge it. I don't like to talk about it. You talk about it, you relive it." The crowd was frozen. "The neighborhood where I come from, a lot of people had a lot of tough things happen to them. At the end of the day, I think people will know who I am."
As for the negative stuff, "I'm just not personally comfortable with it."
Washington Post editors
November 27, 2007; 7:40 PM ET
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