Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said yesterday he plans to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 unless he decides later this year that he has little chance of winning.
"My intention is to seek the nomination," Biden said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I know I'm supposed to be more coy with you. I know I'm supposed to tell you, you know, that I'm not sure. But if, in fact, I think that I have a clear shot at winning the nomination by this November or December, then I'm going to seek the nomination."
Biden said he plans to spend the year road-testing a message to see whether his views are compatible with a majority of Democrats while evaluating whether he can raise the money needed to compete in a race that is widely expected to include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a prodigious fundraiser.
"I've proceeded since last November as if I were going to run," he said. "I'm quite frankly going out, seeing whether I can gather the kind of support."
Biden is the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has used that pulpit to launch increasingly caustic criticisms of President Bush's policy in Iraq. Yesterday, he again accused the administration of failing to level with Americans about the situation there, saying the insurgency is far from being in its last throes, as administration officials have suggested.
"I think the administration figures they've got to paint a rosy picture in order to keep the American people in the game, and the exact opposite is happening," Biden said. "The exact opposite."
Biden, who opposes setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, said that, without changes in U.S. policy, the United States faces failure in Iraq.
"If nothing changes here, we're going to be out of Iraq by the end of 2006 as a nation that has been viewed by the rest of the jihadists in the world as having been pushed out, which is a very bad thing for us," he said. "And Iraq's going to end up having imported into the center of the Middle East . . . radical Islamic terrorist cells and groups that train in the middle of that province."
Biden says he believes that national security issues will be central to the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, as they were in 2004, and that his experience in that arena gives him a possible advantage over other potential candidates.
The Delaware senator ran for president in 1988 but withdrew from the race in 1987 amid accusations that he had plagiarized from speeches by a British Labor Party leader. He openly talked about his interest in running for president in 2004 but in the end chose not to after determining that other candidates had too much of a head start in terms of organization and fundraising.
"Now he understands it's a long march, and if he was to do it, he'd be much better prepared," said Biden spokesman Norm Kurz. "He understands you don't parachute in at the last second."
Kurz said Biden has been road-testing his message and weighing potential support with weekend appearances across the country, particularly in states won by Bush in 2004. He has spoken recently in Virginia, South Carolina and Florida. Kurz likened Biden's activities to a runner training for a track meet.
"You can't wait until the day of the race to train," he said. "He's out there, he's looking at his stopwatch, seeing if his time is good enough."
Although it is still the summer of 2005, Biden was not the only politician talking about presidential politics on the Sunday morning shows. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he will not make a decision about running until well after the 2006 midterm elections.
McCain will turn 72 in 2008 and would be the oldest person ever elected if he became president that year. He also has been treated for melanoma, a skin cancer, but he indicated that he does not believe either issue presents a serious obstacle to running at this point.
"My health is excellent," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "You have had the pleasure of meeting my 93-year-old mother. So my genes, I think, are pretty good. But that would obviously be a factor in this decision-making process. There's no doubt about that."
McCain also sought to counter impressions that he has parted company frequently with Bush on key issues. "I strongly disagree with any assertion that I've been more at odds with the president of the United States than I have been in agreement with him."