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Will Beau Biden, home from war, battle for his dad's vacated Senate seat?

By Jason Horowitz
Friday, October 23, 2009

DOVER, DEL. -- On Sept. 30, a ceremony in front of the Delaware statehouse welcomed the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade home from Iraq to the brick buildings of Dover. Organizers tied yellow ribbons around the trunks of maple trees, the branches of which hung over desks belonging to the Delaware National Guard Enlisted Association. Family members of returning soldiers sat on dozens of rows of white plastic chairs. Kids ran to get hot dogs at the "Welcome Home" USO tents.

And the political power brokers, television cameramen, photographers and reporters in the crowd were there to welcome home Beau Biden. The son of Vice President Joe Biden had -- as the stage-managed epic goes -- returned from war to protect his father's vacated Senate seat from a Republican onslaught. Biden is uniquely suited to raise money and Democratic enthusiasm, but in the weeks since his return as the state's attorney general, he has shown reluctance to join the battle.

Meanwhile, Democrat leaders are anguishing over the prospect of losing the Senate because Republicans -- Mark Kirk in Illinois and Mike Castle in Delaware -- will have captured the seats once held by the president and vice president. If a candidate named Biden is balking at a race in Delaware, then just how glum are things going to get for Democrats in 2010?

Trust me, he's running is the message Democratic leaders are sending, even as the 40-year-old Biden bides his time. Last week, the vice president hinted to a crowd at a fundraiser in Missouri that his eldest son is in the race. And Bob Menendez, the New Jersey senator tasked with protecting the Democratic Senate majority, said in an interview that he expected Biden to run: "Now that he is back home, I'll be reaching out to him and talking to him."

Biden, however, has lain low. He's spending time with his family. He's concentrating on his day job. And Menendez has gone mum, though he is privately assuring donors that the Biden candidacy is a go. During a recent sweep through New York City, Menendez ran into one of the party's most reliable fundraisers. The two Democrats shared intel about contested seats around the country.

"And what about Delaware?" the fundraiser, who asked not to be quoted revealing the details of a private conversation, asked.

"Biden will take care of that," said Menendez.

If so, then when? "He's not the type of guy who is going to let other people's timetables dictate his," said Jack Markell, the Delaware governor, the family-chosen surrogate. He argued forcefully that the prospect of Biden failing to protect his father's seat would not be so catastrophic.

"The implications would be that there would be one fewer seat for the Democrats," he said. "I don't think the impact goes on much beyond that. It will be a story for a couple days."

The homecoming

Political parties don't get many upstarts like Beau Biden. The clan, whose wholesome appeal could land them in a Ralph Lauren spread, sat in the front rows of a VIP section under the stage. Valerie Biden Owens, the vice president's sister, walked around like a nervous mother. Beau's wife, Hallie, wore Jackie O sunglasses and minded the couple's two immaculate kids -- Natalie, 5, and Hunter, 3. Miss Delaware, wearing a tiara and short blue dress, posed for pictures in their vicinity.

Jimmy Biden, the vice president's brother, reclined in a plastic chair. He sported a brown pinstripe suit with a white pocket square and turned the expansive Biden forehead toward the warm sky.

"Beau is clearly following in his father's footsteps," he said.

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