Biden launches presidential bid - then walks into race row over Obama 'slur'

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The Independent US

Joe Biden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has formally entered the 2008 Presidential contest - only to find himself forced to explain away clumsy remarks he made about his colleague Barack Obama, one of his main rivals for his party's nomination.

Mr Biden, a Senate veteran of 34 years who ran for President in 1988, had intended to base his campaign on his experience in foreign affairs. Instead he found himself peppered with questions about remarks he made in a magazine interview which appeared yesterday.

In the interview with The New York Observer, Mr Biden cast doubt on the youthful Mr Obama's credentials, even as he called him "a mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean". The last adjective above all caused a furore, as an implied slur on other black candidates such as civil rights leader Jesse Jackson who also sought the Democratic nomination 19 years ago. Not so, a chastened Mr Biden said, after calling Mr Obama to smooth over the controversy. The first-term Illinois Senator, he said, was "probably the most exciting candidate the Democratic or Republican parties have produced since I've been around. He's fresh, new, smart, insightful. Lightning in a jar."

In fact, Mr Obama was not the only target of Mr Biden in the interview. He called Hillary Clinton's plan to cap US troop levels in Iraq as "nothing but disaster". As for John Edward's call for the immediate withdrawal of 50,000 troops, "I don't think he knows what the heck he's talking about."

For all his reknown and expertise on foreign affairs, Mr Biden is a rank outsider. The eighth Democrat to declare, he trails far behind Ms Clinton, the front runner, Mr Obama and Mr Edwards in the polls. Moreover, missteps like that of yesterday are par for the course.

His 1988 campaign foundered when it was revealed he had plagiarised Neil Kinnock, the Labour Party leader, in some of his speeches. In Washington he has a reputation for extreme verbosity, and is openly mocked behind his back by his colleagues.

Mr Biden voted for the invasion of Iraq but since then he has become one of the war's most vocal critics.