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Las Vegas Sun: Biden, National Security Key in 2008

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Location: Reno, NV

Las Vegas Sun: Biden, National Security Key in 2008


The last time Sen. Joe Biden ran for president, he was in a crowded field with Al Gore, Jessie Jackson, Michael Dukakis and others seeking the 1988 Democratic nomination.

Ronald Reagan was president, Vice President George H.W. Bush was bidding to succeed him, the Unabomber was waging a war of terror and "The Simpsons" were beginning their rise to TV fame.

Debate on the campaign trail was about Iran-Contra, Reagan tax cuts, gun control and the death penalty.

"Back then, there was still a Cold War going on," Biden, D-Del., said in an interview Tuesday. "The Soviet Union still existed. Gorbachev was a big subject."

"The biggest difference now is it's about national security, national security, national security and then everything else," he told The Associated Press.

"When I'm campaigning around the country now, it doesn't matter if I'm in a coffee shop across the street from the statehouse in Carson City or at an event with the Washoe County (Nev.) Democrats or down in Tupelo, Mississippi. Everyone wants to know about Iraq," Biden said.

"They all kind of know that this guy, this president, isn't going to leave the next president with any margin of error."

Biden was on the second day of his first swing through Nevada since announcing his candidacy three weeks ago.

He spoke to the Washoe County Democratic Party at a hotel-casino in Reno Monday night, appeared for the Carson City Democrats at a coffee shop Tuesday morning and planned a speech Tuesday night to a foreign relations group at the University of Nevada, Reno, before appearing Wednesday at a presidential forum in Carson City. Other Democrats scheduled to appear include Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, former vice presidential candidate John Edwards, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.

Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee now in his sixth term, maintains he's the best equipped to win the White House for his party given the public's fixation on national security.

"The first thing is, you don't get to discuss any of the issues that the majority of Americans are with us (Democrats) on - domestic issues - unless you can, to use a Nevada phrase, ante up with unimpeachable credentials on national security. I don't think you even get in the game," Biden said.

"Republicans usually crown their front-runners, either (Arizona Sen. John) McCain or (New York City Mayor Rudy) Giuliani, so we have to have somebody at the top of the ticket who appears to be no-nonsense, knowledgeable and worldly, someone who does not have to have on-the-job training."

"Whether it is me or not, that is the test. People are looking for someone with a depth and breadth of experience that they can trust, not just in this election but beyond in what will be a very difficult decade."

Biden, who dropped out of his last presidential race in September 1988 after he was found to have lifted passages from others in some of his political speeches, declined to compare his credentials with others in the 2008 field. He said he does not believe that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton already has assumed the role of front-runner.

"It is pretty wide open," Biden said. "Hillary very well could win it, but I think it's anybody's ball game."

He expects some of President Clinton's popularity to rub off on her - "he's the most popular guy in the Democratic Party" - but doesn't know what effect that will have.

"I just know that working with her in the Senate is a pleasure. She is as capable as can be, a very formidable opponent," he said.

Biden said one of the similarities between the upcoming election and the 1988 contest is that political change is in the air.

"People failed to understand even when Clinton got elected he was kind of to the Reagan conservative era what Eisenhower was to the Democratic era. Through his political skill, President Clinton was able to stop bad things from happening, but we lost everything - we lost the House, we lost the Senate, we lost statehouses."

"But I think with the 2006 election, this was big change. We have now closed the book on 26 years of a Republican, conservative era. I think it is that basic."

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