Posted: Aug. 6, 2015


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Chris Coons does not think Chris Coons is ready to be the next president of the United States.

"No," Coons said with alarm. "I don't."

The way Coons recoiled puts an interesting perspective on the colleagues of his in the Republican presidential field. As the junior Democratic senator from Delaware, he actually has more seniority than Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.

Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator with far more seniority than Coons, is also part of the presidential race, but not so anyone has really noticed. Graham was relegated to the junior varsity debate Thursday and seems mostly to be occupying the get-off-my-lawn spot among the candidates.

Coons was elected to the Senate in 2010. So were Paul and Rubio, but Coons was sworn in earlier, because the appointment for Ted Kaufman, his Democratic predecessor who was selected after Joe Biden became the vice president, was over as of Election Day, not in January when the new congressional session convened. Cruz was elected in 2012.

"One of the defining characteristics of America is the unceasing ambition of our people. We're a country built on sort of ceaseless striving for self-improvement and self-advancement, and those three are in some ways exemplars of that," Coons said.

Coons said it straight, without even a shred of detectable sarcasm, during an interview Monday in his Senate office in Wilmington.

He apparently comes from the Joe Biden School of Senatorial Courtesy. Only fitting, since he holds the seat Biden once did.

As Biden explained in Promises to Keep, his 2007 memoir, his politic approach to fellow senators arose out of a conversation early in his tenure with Mike Mansfield, the Democratic majority leader.

Biden was railing about Jesse Helms, a Republican senator he regarded at the time as little more than a white supremacist demagogue, when Mansfield stopped him and counseled, "Everybody who is here has something. The people who elected them saw something good about them."

In the spirit of the Biden School, Coons manfully found something good about the trio of his fellow junior senators who are in the Republican presidential race.

Coons noted he has made common cause with Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, on civil liberty and privacy, and he respects Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, for taking a risk with a plan for immigration reform. Not to mention Coons has come to like Rubio personally, although his regard goes only so far.

"I will not be voting for him for president," Coons said.

As for Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, about all Coons could manage was that Cruz's mother was from Wilmington.

On his own party's side of the presidential race, Coons is circumspectly awaiting developments, just as any other card-carrying member of the Delaware Democratic establishment judiciously is.

"My hope is that Joe gets the time and the room to make a decision that's best for him and his family," Coons said.

"If two things happen, if Secretary Clinton genuinely stumbles and if the vice president genuinely decides this is the right thing for him and his family, if those two things happen, he's a strong candidate, and he is arguably the most seasoned and senior American leader in national security and foreign policy at a time when that has never been more relevant and pressing."

Coons himself is not interested in getting any closer to president these days than Air Force One.

He was on a flight to Africa last month as a member of the official party, and the conversation he had with the president was taken up with what just about anyone would expect, namely, the upcoming congressional vote on the Iran nuclear negotiations.

"Nothing but," Coons said.

Coons is uncommitted. As he decides, he is focusing on primarily three factors -- the soundness of the nuclear inspections, the ramifications of unfreezing Iran's financial assets, and the response of the European allies that were in on the negotiations and may well go their own way and re-engage with Iran, no matter what the U.S. does.

It seems to be challenge enough for someone who is five years a senator and only got to be one in a way nobody could make up. It took Joe Biden getting tapped to be the vice president, Beau Biden not running and Mike Castle upended on the Republican side by Christine "I-am-not-a-witch" O'Donnell.

Let other junior senators look in the mirror and see a president. Coons will take a senator looking back at him. It sure beats seeing the county executive he used to be.