Biden Son's Service In Iraq Complicates Succession Question

Beau Biden has been seen as heir to his father's Senate seat.
Beau Biden has been seen as heir to his father's Senate seat. (AP)
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By Ben Pershing
washingtonpost,com Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama's decision to name Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) as his running mate has set off intense speculation in Delaware over who would be named -- and when -- to succeed Biden in the Senate if Democrats were to win the White House in November.

The answer depends on a complicated set of circumstances in the First State that include a heated Democratic primary contest for governor, an uncertain schedule of events on Jan. 20, 2009, and, most intriguingly, whether Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III will have the desire or the opportunity to take his father's seat.

Beau Biden, 39, is the state attorney general. Since he was elected to that post in 2006, he has been viewed in Delaware as a potential inheritor of his father's Senate seat. But the younger Biden is also a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard's Judge Advocate General's Corps, and he is scheduled to head to Iraq on Oct. 3 for a deployment of roughly a year.

That would appear to put him out of the running for an appointment to the Senate by Delaware's governor. Though Beau Biden could seek an early return from his deployment, there has been no indication that he wants one, nor does it seem that shortening his service in Iraq would help his political future.

A spokesman at the state attorney general's office said yesterday that Beau Biden would not comment on the possibility of a Senate appointment.

Joseph Biden is himself up for reelection to the Senate in November. He is expected to easily retain his seat. Under Delaware law he is allowed to be on the ballot for the Senate and the vice presidency (as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut was in 2000, when he was Democrat Al Gore's running mate). If Democrats capture the White House, Biden's successor will be appointed by Delaware's governor, until an election to serve the remaining four years of Biden's term could be held in 2010.

Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's second term expires in January, and Delaware limits governors to two terms. While Democrats are favored to keep the post, a contentious primary is underway for the party's nomination between Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and state Treasurer Jack Markell.

The Constitution requires that the president and vice president be sworn in at noon on Jan. 20. Elaine Manlove, Delaware's commissioner of elections, said the new governor will be sworn in on the same day, but state law does not specify a particular time when that must happen.

So Minner's successor will make the appointment if he is sworn in the morning of Jan. 20 and Biden has not already resigned from the Senate by then. "It looks to me that it would be Governor Minner, unless we go into the January 20 scenario," Manlove said.

Early betting in Delaware on whom Minner might pick has centered on the gubernatorial primary, with the loser of that contest potentially winning appointment to the Senate as a consolation prize.

"If the loser is [Carney], it's very easy to see Governor Minner, who has endorsed him as her successor, appointing him if he would like that office. It's a little harder to see if the loser is Jack Markell," said Samuel B. Hoff, a professor of history and political science at Delaware State University. Markell, he explained, may have rankled Minner by criticizing her administration during his campaign.

Another scenario being discussed in state political circles involves Minner appointing a caretaker -- a respected Democrat who has no intention of running in 2010. That would allow Beau Biden to complete his service in Iraq and return home to run for Senate. (Minner is 73 and not viewed as interested in the seat herself.)

Regardless of which Democrat runs in 2010, GOP Rep. Michael N. Castle is expected to at least consider making a run for Senate. A popular moderate and former governor who has held the state's lone House seat since 1992, Castle is seen as a formidable potential candidate.

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