WASHINGTON — Two days after announcing his intention to seek the presidency, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden on Tuesday accused President Bush of "misleading statements and premature declarations of victory" in Iraq and called on him to change course.
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"The disconnect between the administration's rhetoric and the reality on the ground has opened not just a credibility gap, but a credibility chasm. Standing right in the middle of that chasm are 139,000 American troops — some in their third rotations," the Delaware senator said in a speech at a Washington think tank.
He said Bush should level with voters about the stakes and risks in Iraq and push to get allies more involved in security and reconstruction efforts. While the address broke little new ground, it was arguably the first campaign speech of the 2008 race.
Bush's political team fired back. "Sen. Biden's gloomy view of the significant progress made in Iraq should earn him the title of pessimist in chief," said Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
Biden first to announce candidacy
On Sunday, the blunt-speaking Biden said he plans to seek the Democratic presidential nomination unless he decides later this year that he can't win. At least 20 Democrats and Republicans are considering entering the unusually wide-open field, but no politician has gone as far as Biden to advance his or her candidacy.
Opening with an assurance that he was not being political, Biden said he hoped that Bush would take his advice so that he could succeed in Iraq. "George Bush is our president. We have one president at a time," Biden said. "He is the president, and nobody is running against George Bush."
He can't run against Bush, who is term-limited, but Biden does have his eye on several potential Democratic candidates including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Democrats say she would begin the race as the clear favorite, and top Republicans close to the White House say her candidacy would be formidable.
The other potential Democratic candidates include 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, his running mate, former Sen. John Edwards, and former Vice President Al Gore. Three Democratic governors — Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Mark Warner of Virginia — are testing the waters. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., is also looking at the race.
Vice President Dick Cheney has pledged not to run, meaning 2008 could be the first campaign in five decades without a president or vice president vying for the White House. Polls show that Sen. John McCain of Arizona is the most popular Republican considering the presidency, though some in his party wonder whether conservatives would block his nomination.