Posted: Jan. 15, 2003
"HARDBALL" WITH JOE BIDEN
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
If Chris Matthews really wanted to play
hardball, he needed to press U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. on the
question the Delaware Democrat loves to hate, the one about whether
he will try for the presidential nomination in 2004.
The television host of the "Hardball"
political show on MSNBC barked the question Wednesday night at Biden,
his featured guest, right off the bat. He had to -- after the
hometown crowd watching the broadcast at the University of Delaware
greeted Biden like a rock star.
But the six-term senator -- someone who prides
himself on being able to go eyeball-to-eyeball with world despots
because of his leadership seat on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee -- let this one go by.
"I'm considering it. I'm not being smart with
you," Biden said.
More questions came, rapid fire.
Is the Republican President George W. Bush
Could you beat him? "I don't know about
Before the hour-long show was over, if Biden
did not close the door on a presidential bid, he also opened it on
another possibility. "If I were the new president's secretary of
state . . ." he said at one point.
The exchanges were part of the "Hardball
College Tour." It is Matthews' road show, which takes him to college
campuses on Wednesdays to do his interviews before audiences. Other
recent shows featured Gov. Jesse Ventura at the University of
Minnesota and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the University of
Albany, according to the MSNBC Web site.
This one was broadcast from Mitchell Hall at
the University of Delaware, where Biden earned a bachelor's degree
in 1965 before getting a law degree at Syracuse University in 1968.
Four years later as a precocious 29-year-old he was on his way to
Matthews called Biden "one of the youngest men
ever elected to the United States Senate, now described as a party
elder." Biden turned 60 in November.
Mitchell Hall was standing room only. There
were more than 700 people inside and hundreds more watching in a
room set up with a big screen television in Gore Hall, the next
building over on the Newark campus.
Biden looked as though he was having the time
of his life, even as Matthews braced him about a number of volatile
topics, including affirmative action and foreign policy.
Will there ever come a time, Matthews asked,
when people are judged on the content of their character, not the
color of their skin, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said?
"I don't think it's going to come as long as
this administration is around," Biden shot back.
Matthews wanted to know whether Bush can go it
alone in Iraq.
"He can, but he shouldn't," Biden said,
explaining that United Nations support is crucial not for the
warfare but for an aftermath that could last three to five years.
"This is going to be something like putting Humpty Dumpty together
The evening unfolded as a Delaware happening.
Not only did the crowd come out, but before the telecast, University
of Delaware President David P. Roselle and his wife Louise hosted a
reception at the stately President's House.
The guest list was drawn largely from the
University of Delaware. It was also full of Bidens -- Joe's wife
Jill, his mother Jean, his sister Valerie, his sons Beau and Hunter
and various spouses. Naturally there also was a sprinkling of
Republicans, including John M. Burris, who ran against Joe Biden in
1984, and Pierre du Pont Hayward, the university secretary who was
an aide to U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. in an earlier life.
Matthews wore a University of Delaware
baseball cap at the reception.
Matthews is an old hand at his "Hardball"
format. He has been doing the show, first on CNBC and then on MSNBC,
since 1997. He also has written political books, including
Hardball in 1988, Kennedy & Nixon in 1996 and Now Let
Me Tell You What I Really Think in 2001. He was the Washington
bureau chief for the San Francisco Examiner from 1987 to 2000.
Matthews, who grew up in Philadelphia, earned
his political spurs as a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and
a top aide to U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr., the
late Massachusetts Democrat, in addition to other insider jobs.
It was from Tip O'Neill that Matthews appears
to have learned his "Hardball" television technique, according to an
account in Hardball the book. The master of the political
game used to drain his staff for information with a barrage of "Whaddaya
Matthews wrote: "While O'Neill respected his
staff, even bragged about us, there was one failing he would not
suffer -- being out of the know."
O'Neill retired as speaker in 1987, but Chris
Matthews has yet to be out of the know.
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