The New York Times: Bringing a Little of the U.S. Senate to Iowa
The glass door slides opens and Senator Joseph R. Biden hustles out onto the wooden deck of Bob and Maggie Elliott's home on Dover Street. Throwing his hand into the air, he offers a few parade-like waves and runs down the short staircase.
"I'm one of the 800 people running for president this year," Mr. Biden, a Delaware Democrat, said with a grin, introducing himself to those standing before him. "I'll be very brief. It's too beautiful of a night for me to talk too long."
Nearly two hours later, Mr. Biden was still on hand, walking and talking his way across the Elliotts' backyard. He fielded so many questions - methodically moving back and forth, left to right - that he had started to wear a path into the lush green lawn.
Only a handful of people, though, had quietly stepped away. A crowd of more than six dozen remained. And they moved in closer and closer, finally forming a semi-circle around Mr. Biden as he articulated a long list of challenges facing the nation.
"Unlike any other time in modern American history, the next president of the United States is going to be left with no margin for error - none," Mr. Biden said. "The next president of the United States of America literally has an opportunity to change the world. This is not hyperbole!"
For political enthusiasts, such oratory is usually only available by way of C-SPAN. But when Mr. Biden comes to town, it feels as though he has brought the Senate right along with him.
This political season, most presidential candidates are continually searching for ways to distance themselves from Washington. Not so for Mr. Biden. He is among the few who openly embraces his time in the United States Senate, seldom forgetting to remind his audiences that he was elected in 1972 - at age 29 - and has worked with seven presidents.
"The one outfit that I know is the place that I work," he beamed. "The Congress."
This presidential campaign for Mr. Biden is a reprise to his failed candidacy in 1988. He doesn't dwell on his previous attempt, only telling voters that he had not planned on running again. But in the intensely polarized climate of Washington, he realized, he said, that in the Senate "the likelihood of me being able to change things are small."
"Essentially, being a senator for 34 years is the definition of a misspent adulthood," Mr. Biden said, his words sounding as much like a political valedictory as a campaign speech. "I want to live in the White House because I want to be involved in forming important decisions."
If such a statement sounded self-centered, Mr. Biden offered no apologies. "Ambition is absolutely necessary," he later declared. When a voter quizzed him repeatedly about his path to winning the nomination, he sounded unsure, at least for a moment.
"I must admit to you that I've thought more about what I would do as president than how to get elected as president," Mr. Biden said. "I'm trying to change that."
Indeed, in his efforts to ignite his candidacy, Mr. Biden is trying to change some of the habits that come along with spending more than half his life as a senator. When asked in an interview about his well-established propensity to speak at great length, he responded,, with a brief foray into a Bob Dole-like third person: "Yes, that's the thing Biden has to get over. I'm conscious of it. I don't always meet it, but I'm working on it."
(As he continued on this theme, he insisted that he speaks more concisely than his rivals in the debates. "I'm the only guy who keeps the time, you guys never give me credit for that, but I'm the only one who does," he said. "They all go on too long.")
And that is about as close as Mr. Biden ever gets to criticizing his fellow Democratic candidates. He spends considerably more time deriding the policies of President Bush.
Spend a little time with Mr. Biden and a string of sharp-edged criticisms emerge. "This guy is brain dead," he snaps. At another point, he declares: "If the Lord almighty came down, took out Iraq and sent it to Mars, does anyone think we would still have a problem with terrorism?"
But he spends more time talking about his own candidacy and his biography. In an election in which foreign policy is a chief concern, he reminds voters of his longevity in the Senate and argues how he is particularly qualified to mend diplomatic relations around the globe.
"I know most of the world leaders," he said. "Not because I'm an important guy, but because I've just come up with them."
As the night wears on here in Iowa City, Mr. Biden has moved onto a second event. This time, he's standing outside a restaurant near the University of Iowa campus, where at one point the crowd grew to more than 100 people. After much of his audience breaks up, Mr. Biden keeps talking, and a smaller semi-circle forms around him.
He ends, as he usually does, with an old adage from Delaware politics. "If you keep people standing for more than 15 minutes, you've lost their vote." The crowd, as it usually does, laughs.
And, with that, Mr. Biden continues.
"I'll answer any question. I'll be standing right over there," he said, pointing to a spot beneath a tree. "The last plane left, so I'm here."