Posted: Feb. 27, 2003




U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. told a hair joke before Don Imus could.

The Delaware Democrat was a guest-by-telephone last week on "Imus in the Morning," the talk show broadcast on radio and MSNBC cable television where the host is as famous for his insults as for the celebrities he showcases.

For Biden, his participation was also another way to continue his phantom presidential campaign, the one that maybe is there and maybe not.

Biden came out blazing. He may not be in favor of President George W. Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive strikes as foreign policy, but he certainly embraced it here, being the first to poke fun at his own vague hairline, which has been a running joke on the show. The conversation began this way:

Imus: I'm happy you're not here. I'm glad you are safe in Delaware. It is always good when a guest who might punch me . . .

Biden: I wouldn't harm a hair on your head, man. Matter of fact, if I had your hair, I would be president. I wouldn't be screwing around with this job.

The hair and presidential politics in one breath. This was a definite two-fer, nor did it hurt that Imus' audience is estimated at 10 million people.

Imus did his best to stoke the presidential fire. He said he had seen Biden last month on "Hardball," the political show with Chris Matthews, in which the host said he should run for president. Imus echoed it, asking, "Why don't you?"

Biden gave the answer he has been giving. He said it would eliminate his ability to work in good faith with the Republican administration as the Democrats' ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dealing with such crucial matters as terrorism, Iraq and North Korea.

It was a statesmanlike answer, but Biden also knows all too well the danger of fighting a two-front political war, being enmeshed in the biggest issue in the Senate and in a presidential campaign at the same time. It is what knocked him out when he was trying for the 1988 nomination while also leading the effort to keep Robert J. Bork off the Supreme Court.

Imus let Biden have his say about foreign policy, and Biden criticized the administration for what he said was a missed opportunity at world leadership.

"I think we are going to war, Don, but I think we put ourselves in a pretty difficult spot," Biden said.

"The president has taken all the good choices off the table, and now we are at a place where we either use the force we have that is in place -- absent some miraculous action on the part of the inspectors or Saddam -- or we find ourselves in the position where we embolden Saddam and folks like him around the world, thinking that we pulled away. . . .

"Right after 9-11, the headline of Le Monde, the largest newspaper in France, read, 'We Are All Americans.' We had this phenomenal opportunity to unite the world. . . . We acted like we don't need them, and you pay a price for that down the road."

Imus eventually dragged the dialogue back to Biden's hair, saying it was something like a Chia Pet. He concluded by thanking Biden for being a good sport, although Biden replied, "I am not being a good sport. This is easy, and I enjoy it."

The engagement brought back to mind something Biden had said on "Hardball." He insisted then that he hoped one of the Democratic presidential contenders would "catch fire."

Maybe so, but after the performances with Matthews and Imus, Biden looks for all the world like a guy who is playing with matches himself.

# # #


Kim Alfano came back to speak Wednesday to a Republican crowd that included some people who could remember her in a stroller with a "Pete du Pont for Congress" sticker on it.

These days Alfano, 35, is an established political consultant, the heart of Alfano Communications Inc. in Washington, with high-powered Republican clients like U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma.

She probably had little choice in how she turned out. Politics was in her pabulum.

Alfano spent her childhood in campaign war rooms in Delaware, brought there by her mother Dolores V. Alfano, a longtime party activist and officeholder now with MBNA.

"Wow! This is bizarre," Kim Alfano said. She spoke to about 50 people at the Republican Political Leadership Breakfast at the Sheraton Suites in Wilmington.

Alfano fondly recalled her first paying political job -- "this is the only place I could tell this story" -- as an assistant in the U.S. Senate campaign for John M. Burris, a Republican who lost to Biden in 1984. She was a teen-ager and got so caught up in it that she started to skip school to work, until her mother walked in one day and busted her for it.

"We would have won, too, if I could have stayed," Alfano quipped.