Posted: Jan. 2, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The only member of Congress to endorse Joe Biden for president was out in Iowa to campaign last week, loyal if alone. That would be Tom Carper, his fellow Democratic senator from Delaware.

Hillary Clinton, the queen magnet of congressional endorsements, has 75 Democratic senators and representatives backing her. Even Mike Huckabee, who has made a virtue of his tourist status on Capitol Hill, has four endorsements on the Republican side.

Single digits in the polls, a single endorsement. It figures. Still, Carper does not mind his solitary status. "I feel like I'm in pretty good company," he quipped.

Endorsements do not win elections, organizations do, so Carper turned his endorsement into something useful by pitching in for three days with Biden's operation in Iowa.

Carper joined Biden and a bunch of his family members -- including Valerie Biden Owens, his sister who runs all his campaigns, and Beau Biden, his son the attorney general -- on a chartered flight the day after Christmas.

It meant Carper caught the last crescendo of campaigning that climaxes Thursday evening with the caucuses, where the first votes will be cast for the 2008 presidential nominations.

The caucuses are convoluted, nothing as simple as going to a polling place for a presidential primary and walking into a voting booth to register a private choice. They are neighborhood gatherings, and each party has its own rules.

On the Democratic side, the voters sort themselves in a public display of presidential preference -- the Clinton people standing here, the Biden people clustered there -- and candidates who do not attract at least 15 percent of the roomful are out of the running, their backers free either to migrate to another candidate who met the threshold or to go home.

Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards consistently have polled about 15 percent, Biden and Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd below.

Biden needs to separate himself from the lower tier to keep his campaign going, and it will not be easy. He has had his moments -- MSNBC noted Tuesday in its "First Read" posting that he has drawn sizable and energetic crowds -- but his candidacy was dismissed cavalierly in an analysis Monday by David Yepsen, the leading political columnist in Iowa.

It only took a dependent clause. Yepsen wrote, "If you assume that Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd can't reach that 15 percent threshold . . ."

Even so, Carper returned from his round of rallies, telephone calls and press interviews in Iowa to predict that Biden's campaign would live to fight another day -- next Tuesday in New Hampshire for the first presidential primary.

"I hope I did a little bit of good for Joe. I think he may have caught Bill Richardson. If Joe noses out Bill Richardson, it's on to New Hampshire," Carper said.

Carper is the most prominent of a number of Delawareans who trekked to Iowa for Biden. Sam Lathem, the president of the state AFL-CIO, traveled there in the fall to make the case for Biden with union members and the NAACP. Rhett Ruggerio, the Democratic national committeeman, is there now, as are some of Biden's former staff members. Tommie Little, a lawyer who is a lapsed Republican, went out, too.

In e-mail to friends back home, Little wrote in his customary gung-ho Marine style about his volunteering: "The hunt and crunch is squeezing all of us. . . . I personally talked to many on the phone who are coming alive for JOE. . . . I feel like I am protecting my GRANDCHILDREN just by being here. . . . OORAH."

Carper had a deadline for returning to Delaware. His 22nd wedding anniversary was New Year's. As he did back then, he wanted to have dinner with Martha in New Castle and then go to the New Castle Presbyterian Church shortly after midnight, the time they were married.

Carper planned to surprise Martha by asking her to renew their vows. There is no word yet about whether she accepted.