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News Journal: Biden Gets Personal with Voters and Media

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Location: Columbia, SC

News Journal: Biden Gets Personal with Voters and Media


After delivering the biggest laugh line at the first Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Joe Biden said what's funny to him is that people seemed so surprised he can tell a joke.

His deadpan "Yes," in response to a question Thursday night about whether he could rein in his verbosity, not only brought him media attention, but also scored points with voters and key lawmakers in a state where the second-tier candidate hopes to make his mark in 2008.

"I'm beginning to realize what I should have known all along," he said during an interview at his Columbia hotel. "Part of this is reintroducing myself to the Democratic Party, reintroducing myself to [young members of the media]. I found it unusual that someone would think, 'God, Biden was humorous.' "

Biden may have spent the past 20 years making a name for himself as a foreign policy expert, but during a three-day stint at Democratic Party events in Orangeburg and Columbia, the six-term senator from Delaware seemed determined to display his personal side.

At the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner on Friday, he dialed Columbia resident Jackie Daniel's elderly mother, Frances, on his cell phone after hearing she was a fan. "I love you, kid. I hope I get a chance to meet you," he told the 86-year-old woman.

"She will be ecstatic when I come home tonight," Daniel said.

He stayed about an hour longer than any other candidate at Rep. Jim Clyburn's fish fry, an annual event that drew thousands of Democratic volunteers. His long stay surprised even his host.

"He just left? Are you serious?" said Clyburn, whose potential endorsement in January is the most coveted in the state. "I guess he wants to meet more people. In my younger days, that's what we used to do -- make sure you out-sit the other guy."

Bernard Prezzy, of Orangeburg, watched a surrounded Biden greet people, holding their hands and smiling while cameras flashed.

Prezzy is undecided, but the school board member said, "I like Biden's style, his charisma. He's presidential material for sure."

Anne DuTremble, of Columbia, got Biden's autograph for her mother. She likes him too, and she'd vote for him if she thought he could be the Democratic nominee, she said. "But it looks like it's going to be Hillary or Obama," she said.

Biden said he understands the excitement surrounding Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Calling theirs a "Cinderella story," Biden said, "No one's going to break through at this point." But he said standing shoulder to shoulder with the other candidates and answering questions at the debate is "a good place for me to be."

Biden's debate performance and quick-witted response to NBC moderator Brian Williams may have caught people's attention. Keeping it, however, is another matter.

Williams' question about Biden's verbal discipline referred to allegations of plagiarism that forced him out of the 1988 presidential campaign and his more recent inflammatory gaffe about Obama, whom he called "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean" in a presidential race.

South Carolina state Sen. Gerald Malloy, who has endorsed Biden, said the debate should bring him a bounce in the polls, where he's been stuck in the single digits. "It showed his human side," he said.

Clyburn said, "I don't think anybody did themselves any harm. I do think Biden did himself a lot of good."

But it's doubtful that Biden's performance, even though he and Clinton seemed to be the winners, would be enough to close the gap in the polls and in the money race, said Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University and a political science professor.

Biden ranked ninth out of 16 presidential contenders in fundraising in South Carolina last quarter, with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards raising the most.

But Biden is optimistic that if he exceeds expectations in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, he can ride that momentum to win the South Carolina primary, the first in the South, on Jan. 29.

He purposely chose the small city and Democratic stronghold of Orangeburg to open his first state headquarters Wednesday. "It's rural and it's African-American and I am going to compete for every African-American vote in this state," he said.

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