Joe Biden presidential campaign, 1988
|Campaign||U.S. presidential election, 1988|
U.S. Senator 1973–2009
|Key people||Tim Ridley (manager)
Valerie Biden Owens (manager)
Larry Rasky (press secretary)
Ted Kaufman (treasurer)
Pat Caddell (pollster/consultant)
|This article is part of a series about
Biden announced his candidacy in June 1987, and was considered one of the potentially strongest candidates in the field. However, in September 1987, newspaper stories stated he had plagiarized a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock. Other allegations of past law school plagiarism and exaggerating his academic record soon followed. Biden withdrew from the race later that month.
Leading up to the announcement
Development of a candidacy
Biden had been mentioned among possible contenders in the 1984 presidential election. He had considered the notion in 1983, urged on by pollster Pat Caddell, who thought there was space for a young candidate. A fiery speech he gave to several Democratic audiences had simultaneously scolded Democrats for outdated thinking and encouraged them regarding future directions, and had gained him some notice in the party. However, Biden did not enter the race that season. Nonetheless, he won one vote at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
Biden was active on the party speaking circuit from 1985 on, and was considered one of the best orators among the potential presidential candidates for 1988. The declared absence of Senator Ted Kennedy from the field, to whom Biden was sometimes compared, was also encouraging to a possible Biden candidacy.
Biden received considerable attention in the summer of 1986 when he excoriated Secretary of State George Shultz at a Senate hearing because of the Reagan administration's support of South Africa, which continued to support a system of apartheid.
Status among candidates
Biden was initially considered one of the potentially strongest candidates as campaigning began in 1987. This was because of his moderate image, his speaking ability on the stump (rated second only to that of Jesse Jackson), his appeal to Baby Boomers, his high profile position as chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, looming for the Robert Bork confirmation hearings, and his fundraising appeal—his $1.7 million raised in the first quarter of 1987 was more than any other candidate. By the end of April he had raised $2 million, using not just contributions from Delaware but also establishing a base of support among young professionals and Jewish voters in a number of urban- and suburban-oriented states. He had no campaign debt, and Fortune magazine termed his "most impressive start" a "surprise".
When the campaign began, former Senator Gary Hart, who had made a strong nomination run four years earlier, was considered the clear front-runner. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal referred to the eight-person Democratic field as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". The field's chances were greatly improved once Hart withdrew from the race in May 1987, following revelations of Donna Rice and Monkey Business.
However, Biden did not see a rise in his poll numbers immediately after the Hart withdrawal, and was particularly stagnant in polls for the Iowa caucuses. Nevertheless, Biden had confidence that he could prevail; on the eve of his announcement, he said: "I'm going to win this thing. I really am. I just know it, I can feel it in my fingertips." Some political professionals saw Biden as believing that he could simply will himself to win the race, but his continued ability to raise campaign funds gave him credibility as a candidate.
In his speech, Biden said that Americans should rise above "the mere accumulation of material things". In language intended to recall John F. Kennedy, he said, "For too long in this society, we have celebrated unrestrained individualism over common community. For too long as a nation, we have been lulled by the anthem of self-interest. For a decade, led by Ronald Reagan, self-aggrandizement has been the full-throated cry of this society: 'I've got mine so why don't you get yours' and 'What's in it for me?' ... We must rekindle the fire of idealism in our society, for nothing suffocates the promise of America more than unbounded cynicism and indifference."
Biden also laid out the platform he was running on, which included a middle stance between protectionism and free trade, opposition to the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative, and support for child welfare, reduction of poverty, and the war against illegal drugs. Biden also emphasized the need for integrity in government.
Campaign staff and policy team
Biden's campaign manager was Tim Ridley, his press secretary was Larry Rasky, and his pollster and strategist was Pat Caddell. Biden's Senate chief-of-staff Ted Kaufman served as the campaign treasurer and principle fundraiser. John Marttila served as a political consultant and Tom Donilon served as another strategist. Biden's sister Valerie Biden Owens also served a major role in running the campaign, as she had in all of his Senate campaigns, and was considered "first among equals" in making decisions.
Campaign developments 1987
Once underway, Biden's campaign messaging became confused due to staff rivalries and bickering. Four different themes were presented, sometimes simultaneously: "Pepsi Generation", "Voice of optimism", "Save the children", and "Scold the voters". Pollster Pat Caddell in particular was a disruptive force within the campaign, but he had been Biden's friend for 15 years. Another of the themes was generational change; Biden hoped to inspire a new generation, as John F. Kennedy had inspired his. But that theme was not catching on especially well. Biden was also hurt by his never having been a player in the Washington social scene.
By August 1987, Biden's campaign had begun to lag behind those of Michael Dukakis and Richard Gephardt, although he had still raised more funds than all candidates but Dukakis, and was seeing an upturn in Iowa polls.
Major controversy beset Biden's candidacy, beginning on September 12, 1987 with high-profile articles in The New York Times and The Des Moines Register. Biden was accused of plagiarizing a speech by Neil Kinnock, leader of the British Labour Party. Kinnock's speech, delivered to a Welsh Labour Party conference on May 15, 1987, and then rebroadcast during the UK 1987 general election, included the lines:
Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? [Pointing to his wife in the audience:] Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?
While Biden's speech included the lines:
I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? [Pointing to his wife in the audience:] Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I'm the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?
Biden went on to duplicate other parts of Kinnock's speech, such as their forebears' ability to read and write poetry, their strength in working for hours underground in a mine only to come up and play football afterward, and their being limited by lack of a "platform" upon which to stand.
Biden had in fact cited Kinnock as the source for the formulation on previous occasions. But he made no reference to the original source at the August 23 Democratic debate at the Iowa State Fair being reported on, nor in an August 26 interview for the National Education Association. Moreover, while political speeches often appropriate ideas and language from each other, Biden's use came under more scrutiny because he fabricated aspects of his own family's background in order to match Kinnock's.
Following the Kinnock attention, reports came from the San Jose Mercury News of Biden giving a February 3, 1987, speech to the California Democratic Party that reused without credit passages from a 1967 speech by Robert F. Kennedy, and of Biden giving 1985 and 1986 speeches that did the same with a passage from a 1976 speech by Hubert H. Humphrey. In the Kennedy case – which got the greater attention, since there was film footage of both versions that television news programs could play side-by-side – Pat Caddell stated that the reuse without credit was his own fault, and that he had never informed Biden of the source of the material. It was also reported that the California speech had taken a short phrase from the 1961 inaugural address of John F. Kennedy.
After Biden withdrew from the race, it was learned that he had indeed correctly credited Kinnock on other occasions. But in the Iowa speech that was recorded and distributed to reporters (with a parallel video of Kinnock) by aides to Michael Dukakis, the eventual nominee, he failed to do so. Dukakis, who disowned any knowledge of the Kinnock video, fired John Sasso, his campaign manager and long-time Chief of Staff, but Biden's campaign could not recover.
As a part of the Kinnock controversy, it was revealed that Biden had been involved in a similar incident during his first year at Syracuse University School of Law in 1965. Biden initially received an “F” in an introductory class on legal methodology for writing a paper relying almost exclusively on a single Fordham Law Review article, which he had cited only once. Biden was allowed to repeat the course and passed with high marks. Though the then-dean of the law school, as well as Biden's former professor, downplayed the incident, they did find that Biden drew "chunks of heavy legal prose directly from" the article in question. Biden said it was inadvertent due to his not knowing the proper rules of citation. After ending his Presidential campaign, Biden requested the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Delaware Supreme Court review the issue. The Board concluded on December 21, 1987, after Biden had withdrawn, that the senator had not violated any rules, although Biden did not release this result until May 1989.
As revealed by a video shown on C-SPAN, when questioned by a New Hampshire resident about his grades in law school, Biden had replied "I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect," and then inaccurately recollected graduating in the "top half" of his class when he actually graduated 76th from 85, that he had attended law school on a full scholarship, and had received three degrees in college. In fact, he had earned a single B.A. with a double major in history and political science, and had received a half scholarship to law school based on financial need with some additional assistance based in part upon academics. During this time, Biden also released his undergraduate grades, which were unexceptional.
The Kinnock and academic revelations were magnified by the limited amount of other news about the nomination race at the time, when most of the public were not yet paying attention to any of the campaigns; Biden thus fell into what Washington Post writer Paul Taylor described as that year's trend, a "trial by media ordeal". Biden lacked a strong demographic or political group of support to help him survive the crisis. The controversy also hit Biden in his most vulnerable area, accentuating the notion that he lacked mental and verbal discipline.
Biden withdrew from the nomination race on September 23, 1987, saying his candidacy had been overrun by "the exaggerated shadow" of his past mistakes. His formal campaign had lasted only three and a half months.
Because of his early withdrawal, Biden did not participate in the 1988 caucuses and primaries, in which Governor Michael Dukakis defeated Jesse Jackson, Senators Al Gore and Paul Simon, and other longer-standing contenders.
In retrospect, Biden would take the blame for his mistakes during the campaign. On one, he said, "All I had to say was 'Like Kinnock.' If I'd just said those two words, 'Like Kinnock,' and I didn't. It was my fault, nobody else's fault." On another, he ruefully recalled, "'Hey pal, you want to compare IQs?' What an immature thing to say."
Biden had felt poorly physically during parts of the campaign, suffering repeated headaches and at one point in September 1987 having to halt a speech in New Hampshire for 15 minutes after feeling faint. In February 1988, he suffered the first of two brain aneurysms that required life-saving surgery and seven months away from the Senate in order to convalesce. Biden and others would speculate that had his campaign not ended early, the aneurysms might have been more severe or detected later and that he might not have lived out the year.
In any case, Biden would not run again for the presidency until his 2008 campaign, twenty years later. This time he made it to the Iowa caucuses, but withdrew after a poor showing. Meanwhile, Biden and Kinnock had become close friends after the plagiarism incident. Meeting in August 2008, after Biden had been chosen by Democratic nominee Barack Obama as his running mate, Biden introduced Kinnock to his Senate staff by saying: “Hey, you people! Do you know this guy? He used to be my greatest speechwriter.” Obama and Biden proceeded to win the general election against the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin; Biden's 1988 campaign lapses were never a significant issue in the race, and Biden invited Kinnock to the inauguration.
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