Posted: Oct. 9, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Presidential campaign prospects for Valerie Biden Owens dimmed considerably when her brother-the-senator decided not to run, but now it appears that she won't be sitting this one out, after all.

Owens, whose campaign work in Delaware turned her into a political consultant in her own right, is on the verge of inking a deal that would sign up Joe Slade White & Co., the firm where she is the executive vice president, to handle media advertising for Wesley K. Clark, the retired general who made a dramatic late entry into the Democratic field.

"I want to make sure a Democrat wins, just like Joe does, and this is the Democrat who looked at us," Owens said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Whether Owens' presence in Clark's campaign will have any effect on her older brother's forthcoming decision to endorse a presidential candidate is unknown. U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. previously has said he is leaning toward either Clark or U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry among the nine Democrats seeking the nomination to run against President George W. Bush and the Republicans in 2004.

"Joe's not anointed any of these guys or dis-anointed any of them," Owens said. "If he's decided where he's going, he's not telling anybody."

Still, Owens does not kid herself about the importance of her family connection. "To the extent we're even at the the table, it's because of Joe Biden," she said.

Owens branched out her campaign work beyond running her brother's campaigns -- the one for New Castle County Council in 1970, the presidential bid for 1988 and his six senatorial races from 1972 to 2002 -- six years ago. She hired Joe Slade White & Co. for the 1996 senatorial race, and afterwards White asked her to join his firm. It took some persuading, but she eventually did.

White, whose home office is in upstate New York, got his start in national politics with the presidential campaign of George S. McGovern in 1972, the same year that Biden, as a 29-year-old upstart, was winning his improbable race to knock off U.S. Sen. J. Caleb Boggs, a revered Republican workhorse, in one of the greatest upsets in Delaware politics.

White's clients, in addition to Biden, have included Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party, as well as former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, now running for the U.S. Senate, and retired U.S. Sens. John H. Glenn Jr. of Ohio and Lloyd M. Bentsen of Texas.

Owens is not the only campaign operative to gravitate toward Clark since Biden announced in August he would pass up the race. Ron Klain, a lawyer who once worked on the Senate Judiciary Committee that Biden chaired, is a political strategist who was involved with the Clinton-Gore campaign and was set to play a central role with Biden. Now he is part of Clark's inner circle.

While moving ahead with Clark's campaign, Owens concedes she still gets that tug of wishing she were running a Biden presidential operation.

"In the abstract, I do," she said. "There's nobody in the world like my brother. Joe made a decision that was right for him at the time, and if it's right for him at the time, it's right for me."

And who knows? Maybe the 2004 election could be a prelude for the presidential race Owens really wants to do.