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Joe Biden makes a forthright campaign stop in Charleston

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Joe Biden is running for president, and he's not afraid to say so.

Isn't that refreshing?

John Kerry, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich have all visited the state. But none of them have said they're running for anything.

These guys are hemming and hawing. They're just visiting South Carolina for the champion crab dip and good beach music. They're just trying to get their nominees elected in 2006. Nobody's looking to 2008 and publicly announcing their presidential aspirations ... except the Democratic senator from Delaware.

"There's so much at stake," Biden says. "I have trouble not saying what I'm doing. I think the American folks are looking for someone to say straight up, 'What am I doing? I'm running for president. That is what I'm doing.'"

But his early presidential campaigning isn't to say he's not thinking of 2006 as well. Stepping out in front of a crowd of Democratic supporters last week, Biden had a bumper sticker splayed across his chest with "Randy Maatta for Congress" on it. Maatta's the local candidate looking to unseat a Republican in the House of Representatives. If you haven't heard, Democrats are more hopeful than ever in the last 12 years that they can win the House back this year.

"I have a mild interest in taking back the U.S. Congress," Biden jokes.

Pointing out Republican pitfalls seems to be like shooting ducks in a barrel, and much of the criticism the Republicans have heard before.

The national surplus. "Well, they fixed that."

Government spending. "There's nothing conservative in a fiscal sense about this party and they know it."

The response to Katrina. "It blew away any hope and prayer that this administration was competent."

Insert easy-to-find gaffe here. "The American public has figured out this administration has dug us in a very deep hole."

But Biden didn't neglect criticizing his own party, noting two reasons for the party's failure to beat President Bush twice.

"We are so timid," he says. "It's about being assertive. We have to say what we think."

The other problem was the candidates from both parties. Biden says he's got tremendous respect for Al Gore, and John Kerry is one of his closest friends in the Senate, but they didn't provide the spark needed to best the just-as-unappealing George Bush.

"There was very little enthusiasm," he says. "Like, I'd jump in front of the political train for this guy."

Biden's getting attention for his proposal on handling the war in Iraq.

"It's the only plan out there," Biden says. "So, a practical part of that is everyone is starting to focus on it and it's picking up a lot of support. The one thing that's pretty clear is that everyone is figuring out what I've been saying for months and that's that it is civil war."

His suggestion is to have Baghdad serve as the central capital of three mostly independent states for the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, with the three splitting oil revenues so that each are vested in the preservation of the other.

Biden may be getting attention for his sharp ideas, but then, he's really in a field of one until after November, when other candidates show their stripes.

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