Posted: June 7, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The time that U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. got serious about running for president, he was going after the 1988 Democratic nomination, so he still had two years left on his Senate term.

If he gets serious about it again 20 years later -- and there certainly are signs that he wants to run in 2008 -- the presidential election would coincide with the end of his term, his sixth since Delaware voters first sent him to Washington in 1972.

For reasons both legal and practical, it appears that Biden would not have to choose between the two. If he wanted, he could run for both.

State officials, not wanting to be scurrying for the constitution and code under pressure, already have done some research and come to the conclusion that Biden could be on the ballot for the Senate and president -- or for vice president, for that matter.

It has happened in other states, most recently in 2000, when Joseph I. Lieberman was re-elected to his Senate seat from Connecticut but lost for vice president on the Democratic ticket with Albert Gore Jr.

"Biden can't hold both, of course, but he can run for both," said Frank B. Calio, the state election commissioner.

Practically the choice is unlikely to come up. With so many states scheduling their presidential primaries early in the year, the nomination likely will be determined at least by March, and Biden will have it or be out of it, months before the filing deadline for his Senate seat at the end of July.

"In real life it's not an issue he has to deal with. He would either be the nominee of the party, or he would not be the nominee of the party," said Edward E. "Ted" Kaufman, a top political adviser who is a past Democratic national committeeman and a former chief of staff for Biden.

Still, there do not appear to be any legal obstacles to a dual candidacy, if the opportunity occurs. "It's based on the absence of any prohibition in the constitution or statute," said Joseph C. Schoell, the counsel to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a two-term Democrat.

A 1980 advisory opinion from Attorney General Richard S. Gebelein, a Republican who is now a Superior Court judge, clears the way, as well.

"The right of a person to run for and hold public office is so fundamental that it should not be restricted except by clear constitutional or statutory language," the opinion said. "There is no express constitutional, statutory or common law prohibition barring multiple candidacies in a general election."

Another way of looking at the situation could give Biden even more leeway, according to Bruce A. Rogers, a Georgetown lawyer who is a past Sussex County Republican chairman. It is because of the Electoral College.

"Since we don't theoretically vote for president, rather voting instead for electors who in turn elect the president, there would appear to be even less of a conflict in running for both offices than appears on the surface," Rogers said. "Technically a senator would only be on the ballot once -- for senator. The second time his name would appear would be to elect his members to the Electoral College."

Meanwhile, Biden continues to act like someone running fast enough for two races.

He has two major fund raisers scheduled in Delaware this month -- one at his home and one primarily for bankruptcy lawyers who benefited from the new bankruptcy law -- and some of the money could be transferred to a presidential campaign.

His travel schedule is booked. Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, just got back from Iraq and then got himself some national attention by saying Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that the Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed because it is used as a propaganda recruiting tool for terrorists.

There are whispers that Biden will set up a PAC, a political action committee, to collect and distribute contributions for goodwill among Democrats, and he is scheduled to be the keynote speaker Saturday for Florida Democrats at their Jefferson-Jackson Gala in Hollywood. It is not lost on anybody that Florida is the state that determined the 2000 presidential election.

So what would Biden do about his Senate seat if political lightning struck and he got the Democratic nomination?

"You cross that bridge when you come to it," Kaufman said. "Since he hasn't decided to run, it's a bridge too far."