With a resume that ought to impress, Biden tries to work his way up

I knew better than to expect much of a crowd for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s recent book signing. Maybe Biden did, too.

The line at the Borders store at 2190 N. Rainbow Blvd. wasn’t halfway to the door. Biden signed copies of his book "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics," then spent time chatting with customers in the store’s coffee shop. He might have visited with a couple of hundred people and sold several cases of books.

Meanwhile, every movement of Democratic presidential frontrunners Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama seems to make national headlines and the nightly TV news.

Clinton generates more media interest from the selection of her campaign’s official theme song than Biden does in a month of speeches.

Clinton and Obama have their strengths. But I’m fascinated by the candidacies of the U.S. senator from Delaware, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico because these are three men whose lengthy resumes ought to genuinely impress American voters.

Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 at age 29, has substantial foreign policy experience, and has forwarded a compelling plan to geographically partition Iraq while maintaining a central government and minimizing American involvement.

What’s this, a candidate with an actual idea?

So far, voters in key primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada have been unable to suppress a collective yawn. Biden, Dodd and Richardson are mired in the "second tier" while Clinton, Obama, and to a lesser extent John Edwards share something akin to "American Idol" status. A recent NewsMax/Zogby survey in Iowa gave Biden 3 percent of the vote, and he fared only slightly better at 5 percent in a Strategic Vision poll. Still others have Biden down in Dennis Kucinich/Mike Gravel territory.

The distance is not lost on Biden, who is known for his candor and command of the issues.

"The problem is, you pick up the newspaper, you turn on the television, it’s a Barack-Hillary show," Biden recently told the Baltimore Sun.

It’s a show that plays over and over to monster audiences while Biden and the rest catch a glimpse of the action through a knothole in the fence.

Obama and Clinton are considered heavy favorites and enjoy fundraising that’s far superior to the rest of the field. The image of inevitability, fostered in part by the national media, begets big donations, which in turn generates an even greater air of inevitability.

Meanwhile, at a Borders near you, candidate Biden signs books for an interesting but manageable crowd. My own straw poll concludes something intriguing about those people who took time out of their workdays to meet the candidate and buy his book. They appreciate intelligent candor — especially when the subject turns to the war.

"I’m here because I like his idea of partitioning off Iraq," 10-year Las Vegan Ben Hoff says. Hoff isn’t a Democrat, but an independent who tells me that Ross Perot was the last presidential candidate who got his vote. He also likes the way Biden comes off when he spars on the Sunday TV political shows with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

"He’s one of the people I admire," Hoff says.

My favorite book buyer is Cori Forrester, who whispers that she’s purchasing it for her dad.

"He’s a Republican, but he loves this guy," she says.

Registered Democrat Anthony Polimeni is still studying the candidates, but he’s taking Biden seriously. He has something in common with Renee Meyocks, who likes Biden but is absolutely certain she wants to see her party represented in the White House this time around.

"I’ve been a Biden supporter since Daddy Bush proposed the prelude to this fiasco," Meyocks says. "I like Joe Biden a lot at this point, but it’s early for me to say who I am supporting for president."

Then there’s Mark Jackowski, a five-year Las Vegan, who is gravitating toward Biden from Edwards in part because of the Delaware senator’s foreign policy experience.

"I think (Biden) is the only one who is really paying attention to the outside world," says Jackowski, who calls Edwards "too scripted."

Too scripted, but running third in most polls.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden is winning converts one book at a time.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.

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