Posted: Jan. 29, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Ted Kennedy sat next to Barack Obama during the State of the Union speech Monday evening. After the killer endorsement Kennedy delivered for Obama hours earlier, it was no surprise.

Hillary Clinton was a different story. The lady in red was flanked during the broadcast by Joe Biden on her left and Tom Carper on her right. Now this was a big surprise.

Eyeballs in Delaware were swiveling.

Biden has not expressed a preference for anyone else since he dropped out of the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Carper, who was the only member of Congress to endorse his fellow Delawarean, followed Biden into neutrality.

Other prominent state Democrats have committed in advance of the presidential primary, scheduled for Super Duper Tuesday next week, when more than 20 states vote. The governor went for Clinton, and the two who want to be governor went for Obama, and so it goes.

Inquiring political minds wanted to know what was up. Was this senatorial seating arrangement a silent signal of support from the screen?

The perception of why they sat depends on where the viewers stand.

"Delaware to the left, Delaware to the right. I guarantee it was going through her head," said Rhett Ruggerio, the Democratic national committeeman who is on Clinton's state steering committee.

"That was coincidental. I'm not reading anything into it," said "Stormin'" Norman Oliver, a Wilmington Democratic ex-councilman who is an Obama man.

The seating was the talk of the state's political class the day after the speech. Politics is nothing if not the parsing of ulterior motives.

"Both of those gentleman know where the camera will be," cracked a Democrat who has known both Biden and Carper for a very long time.

"It sure doesn't match Ted Kennedy. Joe Biden and Tom Carper don't make one Ted Kennedy, not in political weight or body weight," quipped a Republican.

Carper himself and Biden's office insisted the seating was happenstance. Carper walked in with Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and the two found a row with five empty places. Biden walked in with Clinton and joined them.

It was just seats. Carper repeated in an interview Tuesday he was not ready to endorse, even though Bill Clinton called his cell phone about 10 days ago and asked about it. Biden said nice things about both candidates during an interview on MSNBC after the president's speech.

"It's been a good week for Barack, but Hillary's still alive and kicking. Going into Super Tuesday, she still has a good chance of being the nominee. This is an historic moment. We're likely to have the next president of the United States be an African-American or a woman. That's something I dreamed of from the time I got involved in politics," Biden said.

He added laughing, ""I never dreamed I'd get caught in the middle of it."

Carper, ever the peacemaker who tried to wrap John Carney and Jack Markell into a single gubernatorial ticket, conceded he did try to arrange the seating at the State of the Union address, but his idea was to have Clinton and Obama sit together as part of his grand scheme to turn them into running mates.

Kennedy told him, "I don't think so."

This is the United States Senate, where if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck, and where a banana is never just a banana.

When Clinton walked in with Biden, it was time to pay attention, because it was just days after the vestiges of Biden's presidential campaign sent out a blast e-mail very much indicating that he has moved on to "Plan B." The e-mail contained what it called an "interesting" story from The Politico, a Capitol Hill newspaper, and here is what it said:

"The Delaware senator's second run for the White House ended in the snow of Iowa, but he is even more attractive than before as a candidate for secretary of state in a Democratic administration."

When Clinton sat between Biden and Carper, it was time to pay attention. Certainly Clinton was. Carper said she told them, "As Delaware goes, so goes the nation."