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Biden on Defensive as He Enters US Presidential Race

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is the latest Democrat to join the race for president in 2008. But Biden already finds himself on the defensive over some comments he made about one of his rivals, Illinois Senator Barack Obama. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Biden gave an interview to The New York Observer newspaper describing Senator Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Shortly after announcing his presidential bid, Biden found himself trying to first explain, then apologize for his remarks, including telephoning Senator Obama.

Biden said he was trying to be complimentary to Obama, and that his remarks had been taken out of context.

Obama said he did not take Biden's remarks personally, but he said they were inaccurate, noting previous African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun and Shirley Chisolm.

Senator Biden expressed regret for his comments on The Daily Show on the Comedy Central cable TV network.

"The word that got me in trouble was using the word clean. I should have said fresh," he said.

Biden is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading Democratic Party voice on Iraq. Biden emphasized his long experience in the Senate dealing with foreign policy in an interview with ABC television.

"But the next president of the United States, because of the policies of this president, is going to have no margin for error," he said. "He or she, the moment they take office, is going to have to figure out how to extricate us from Iraq, without making the Middle East even more destabilized," he said.

This is Senator Biden's second presidential bid. Biden dropped out of the 1988 race for president after he was accused of plagiarizing speeches given by former British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.

Beyond his problems about the Obama comments, Senator Biden also faces the challenge of gaining media and public attention in a race that so far is being dominated by Senator Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, the frontrunner in the Democratic presidential field.

Stephen Hess, a political expert at George Washington University, explains the appeal of Obama and Clinton.

"He [Obama] has the charm of newness, in which everybody can read into it what they think he believes, because it is what they believe. She [Clinton], we know where she is coming from. It is just an absolutely fascinating duo," he said.

Other Democratic contenders include former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

In addition, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is in the race along with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.

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