by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
May 17, 2007
WHEN BIDEN JOKES 'ELIMINATE DODD,' HE MAY HALF MEAN IT
BRADENTON, Fla., May 17, 2007 -- Eastern liberals - despite what Republicans feel - are not in unlimited supply, even if they are a little more abundant during the waning days of the Bush Administration.
And that's the nub of a problem for Delaware's U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, whose first-tier Democratic presidential campaign certainly isn't helped by second-tier competition from Connecticut's U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd. Only one eastern liberal can get to the White House, and there's three in the race.
Dodd, a genial and gravelly-voiced second-generation senator, is seen by some analysts as a stand-in for New York's U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, a neo-Easterner who has far more to fear from the well-known Biden than his little-known liberal counterpart two states to the north. And that's what Biden seemed to feel, too, after the recent South Carolina Democratic Presidential Debates at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C.
Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a power in Democratic politics for more than 30 years, was concluding an interview with a complaint about how Republicans eliminated Biden crime bills that put 100,000 new police officers on America's streets at the height of the crack epidemic, when he abruptly joked to this reporter, "Now we've got to eliminate Dodd." [Hear the comment below]
In the era of "nappy-headed hos" and "Bomb bomb Iran," the joke was one of those off-the-cuff remarks that a politician might instantly regret. And Biden did.
"I'm joking," Biden immediately added. "He's a beautiful guy." Dodd, hearing the end of the exchange, laughed out loud. "Meet my friend Joe," Dodd said to me, and Sen. Biden and I shook hands once again.
"And I'm your girlfriend," I joked.
"Thanks a lot!" groaned Biden in jest as both men laughed.
But the problem of Dodd's candidacy is a real one for Biden. The Connecticut senator is hardly well-known enough to raise the funds needed for a major effort at winning the White House. But the one issue he does champion that is of enormous concern to tens of millions of debt-ridden Americans - the usurious interest rates and huge late payment and overlimit penalties most credit-card companies are charging - is being completely ignored on the campaign trail.
Powerful ads driven by that message could probably make substantial inroads for Dodd - but his failure to mount any suggests he is not really a serious candidate.
During our conversation, Dodd promised he would bring a bill out of the Senate Banking and Finance Commitee he chairs, which has been holding on-again, off-again hearings on the abusive practices of credit card companies. "You bet I am. You bet we are," he said when asked if he would finally bring a bill to the Senate floor to curb the practices.
"I'm urging the industry itself to correct, but I fully know that even if they do they can go back to the same practices under a different climate. So I'm very interested in the changes they're making, but I'm also going to enact some legislation to make sure that some of this stuff - what they call the universal default payments, the double-billing cycle that goes on - we're going to be putting a stop to it. The industry collects $20 billion a year in fees that they didn't collect 20 years ago, so it's really becoming a source of great consumer debt at a time when credit cards can be very valuable to people and tremendously worthwhile.
"I'm a strong supporter of them," he said. "I just don't want to see people to be caught into a web they never get out from underneath." But how will he fight the credit card companies that have so much influence on Capitol Hill?
"I think a lot of people care about it. I'm sure I can get support for it," he said.
Right now, Dodd has Biden hemmed in to some degree, although the Delaware Senator's appeal and his movie-star good lucks - along with a compelling personal story that could bring even the most hard-boiled reporter to tears - make him a truly national candidate, while Dodd's influence doesn't reach much further west than Washington, D.C.
Biden, for instance, champions a withdrawal from Iraq that leaves the country with three semi-auonomous regional governments and a central government with little responsibility beyond dividing oil revenues and running the nation's defense establsihment. He is quick to say he does not advocate partition, and his position is very close to that of seasoned diplomat Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor who was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton Administration (Dodd is not known for his stance on Iraq). Friends like Ted Kaufman, Biden's former chief of staff, say Biden is on a first-name basis with many world leaders, having first met them when they were on their way up in their respective governments. "He knows almost all - virtually, all - of them," Kaufman says.
But as long as Dodd is in the race, as a favorite son he can be expected to weaken and even defeat Biden in the Connecticut primary, and perhaps others, which may give Sen. Clinton a more secure shot at cleaning house in all the Northeastern Democratic state primaries. For Biden, winning at least two or three of the northeastern states represent his best chance of staying in the primary race for the long haul. Dodd's spoiler role is standard operating practice in presidential politics, although few pundits call it as it is for fear of spoiling the fun.
If Clinton makes a big mistake - gets her accents confused in New York or Arkansas, say - or somehow loses a substantial part of her following or is forced to withdraw, could Dodd jump to Biden's camp? Maybe, if he got good Cabinet post. The two men may have more in common than either has with a Southern-state return-trip carpetbagger whose husband overshadowed them for eight long years.
My interviews with Sen. Joe Biden (on crime bills he offered) and Sen. Chris Dodd: