Biden known as a blunt inquisitor

While still in the running for the Democratic presidential nod, he said he could withstand the scrutiny.

"If my biggest test is, Am I too loquacious vs. whether I'm qualified or competent, I'd take that test," he said.

"This is not a judgment of what a group of elite though very well-informed reporters think. It's what people think in their living rooms in Iowa. What do they think in California? The public is going to make a judgment."

Political rhetoric in America has been dumbed-down, he said, calling the trend an insult to voters.

"One of the reasons we're in trouble is the last eight to 12 years, both political parties have concluded you've got to be able to get your whole platform down to a bumper sticker.

"But things are much more complicated and serious than that. I'm going to treat the American people with respect. I'm going to give them my rationale. I'm not going to assume they can't understand it."

A political dynasty

Catherine Mancini remembers the first time she decided to back Biden.

It was 1970, and Biden had expressed interest in running for a seat on the New Castle County Council. He was a young Wilmington lawyer, and he impressed Mancini, president of the Women's Democratic Club of Delaware.

"We talked to Joe, and we looked at him as though God had sent us a gift," Mancini said. "He's special."

Biden was born in Scranton, Pa., but his family moved to New Castle County soon afterward. He was educated at St. Helena's School in Wilmington and Archmere Academy in Claymont before attending the University of Delaware.

After graduating in 1965, he went to Syracuse University College of Law, graduating in 1968. He was admitted to the bar in 1969 and set up his practice in Wilmington.

A year later, he was elected to the New Castle County Council. In 1972, he ran for the U.S. Senate against two-term incumbent J. Caleb Boggs. Biden won that election at age 29, before he was legally old enough to serve in the Senate. He turned 30 on Nov. 20 that year and was of legal age when he entered the Senate in January 1973. He has been a fixture there ever since. His current term ends on Jan. 3.

Biden has played a major role in developing anti-crime legislation in the past 10 years including the so-called Biden Crime Law in 1994 and the Violence Against Women Act of 2000, a landmark anti-domestic violence law. As chairman of the International Narcotics Control Caucus, Biden also wrote the legislation creating a national "drug czar" to oversee U.S. anti-drug policies.

Those bills, Democrats said, demonstrate Biden's leadership and fitness for an executive post.

As the chariman and top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden has influenced America's relationships with other countries. As the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he presided over two of the most famous hearings in its history — those of Bork and Clarence Thomas. Thomas, despite claims that he sexually harassed staff members, made it to the nation's highest court. Bork, a darling of conservative Republicans, did not.

In February 1988, Biden was hospitalized after suffering from two brain aneurysms. He was unable to return to the Senate for seven months. Many pundits thought the combination of health problems and the plagiarism charges would be too much for him to overcome, and that his career was over.

It was not.

He has easily beaten every Republican challenger since then.

In large measure, his success has been due to his ability as a curbside campaigner. Biden has a reputation for shooting from the hip, as he did when he called President Bush "brain-dead" while campaigning for Sen. John Kerry. Republicans were outraged by his comments, but since Biden had also called former Democratic president Clinton brain-dead, many people dismissed the GOP's criticism.

"Joe says what he thinks. He doesn't say things to be popular. He says what's on his mind," said Blaine Breeding, president of the Delaware Young Democrats. "Frankly, I think that's what we need, someone who will tell you the truth straight out without pulling any punches."

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