Democratic Presidential candidates share a laugh during the 30th annual Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola
Joshua Lott  /  Reuters
Democratic presidential contender Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, right, with two of his rivals for the nomination, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, left, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolna, center, at the 30th annual Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa Sunday.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 9/17/2007 12:41:59 PM ET 2007-09-17T16:41:59

It seems like this should be Joe Biden’s moment.

The Senate veteran has offered a plan for a decentralized Iraq that pundits and members of Congress increasingly are seeing as perhaps the last chance to salvage the U.S. effort in that country.

Rep. Adam Putnam, a top-ranking House Republican, has recently spoken with some praise for Biden’s plan for a federal Iraq; Putnam even used the same analogy that Biden uses, America’s Articles of Confederation from the 1700s.

Campaigning this weekend in Iowa, Biden found many admirers, including some as frustrated as he is that he has been overshadowed by what he called the “celebrity” candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

As he made his pitch to a group of 30 Democrats in a coffee shop in the town of LeMars, a woman named Carrie Kappen, listening to Biden, raised her hand and said, “I want to vote for a president who speaks like you, who looks like you, who will tell it like it is like you. How can we get you to be above Mrs. Clinton and Obama? You need to be number one!”

'Will you marry me?'
“I love you,” Biden quipped. “My wife is down the street, but will you marry me?”

“We need a leader and we need a hero and we need you to lead our country,” Kappen replied.

There was only one problem with Kappen: she’s from Sioux Falls, which is in South Dakota, not from Sioux City, Sioux Center, or Sioux Rapids, all of which are in Iowa.

Video: Joe Biden on the Iraq war

If only she lived a few miles to the southeast, she would have made a wonderful precinct chairwoman for Biden on the night of the Iowa caucuses next January.

"It’s awful hard, understandably, to get above the sort of celebrities,” Biden told the crowd. He said, “It’s a pretty cool thing” that one Democratic presidential contender is an African-American and another is a woman, he noted. But “it sucked all the oxygen out of the air.”

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"We’re still in the game here,” the Delaware senator assured the LeMars audience. “Look around the state: I’ve got as many (Iowa) House members that have endorsed me as Hillary has.”

He said, “If I end up winning Iowa, I’m not going to have to go through the retrospective of ‘Is he qualified to be president?’ You haven’t heard anybody say, ‘Biden doesn’t have the capacity to be president.’ The big question with Biden is, ‘can Biden win the nomination?’ Not ‘can Biden govern if he’s president?’”

Biden is using his stops in Iowa to draw voters’ attention to the flaws in his rivals.

“Both Hillary and Barack didn’t get it right” when they had their “little spat” a few weeks back on whether a president could order a unilateral attack on terrorists in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Obama, he said, “didn’t know it was already U.S. policy, as he was attempting understandably to show more strength” and she, “in trying to make the case that he didn’t know what he was talking about, essentially adopted a policy that would be a disaster, which is ‘no, we never do that.’”

And he criticizes Obama and former Sen. John Edwards for “playing the populism card, the idea that rich are bad, poor are good, the nobility of America lies in the poor. I think that’s a losing general election argument; I think it’s a losing argument, period.”

He argues, “The rich are as patriotic as the poor, if you ask of them. But what doesn’t work, and what I don’t want to be part of, is this class warfare kind of argument.”

No Democratic contender is more literally "in your face" than Biden.

At a campaign breakfast in Sioux City Saturday with 60 people in attendance, he claimed credit for getting money appropriated to build a new type of armored vehicle, the Cougar, which reduces casualties from roadside explosives in Iraq by 70 percent.

Biden got six inches away from one woman’s face. Biting off his words, Biden vehemently told her, “I will not cut one single solitary cent of the money that we need to build those vehicles to protect these kids — and they cost billions of dollars.”

Assessing Democratic voters who want to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq immediately, Biden said, “I don’t think it is anywhere near a majority.”

Biden said the benchmark of that sentiment is how senators voted on May 24 on cutting off funds for operations in Iraq.

“I knew what the political vote was — it was to vote ‘no,’” said Biden. “I had bets with my staff that every one of the senators who were running (for president) would vote against it, even though they knew better. I went ahead and voted for the funding.”

How they voted on Iraq funding operations
Obama, Clinton and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut were among the 14 senators who voted no.

“I was the only one who not only voted for the money, but said it was a moral obligation to do it,” he noted.

When he returned to Iowa after that vote, Biden said, he got standing ovations at every stop. Iowa Democrats “want the war ended, but they know that voting against that money would have done nothing but delay” funds needed for armored vehicles for American troops.

“By the time I am president,” Biden told his Sioux City audience, “I guarantee you unless there is the ability to provide for a political settlement, I’m removing all American troops.”

He acknowledged that “bad things will happen if all American troops are removed,” but “worse things happen if they stay. I will not use American troops… for the only purpose of keeping things from getting worse.”

He said his message to Iraqi politicians would be: “We are leaving unless you get it together.”

The Sioux City crowd gave that line a big round of applause.

Showing how little has changed in Democratic politics when it comes to Iraq, Biden’s Sioux City event took place just down the street from the hall where, in November of 2003, Democratic presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt tried to explain his support for President Bush’s use of force in Iraq and, a somber voice in the crowd interrupted him, “Know that we’re not going to tolerate another Vietnam.”

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