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Biden cashes in a long-ago IOU

August 27, 2007 | 10:29 pm

Political families have long memories. They keep tabs on who was for 'em and who was agin 'em, especially at crucial moments. Thus it is that a decision Joe Biden made more than 30 years ago has paid off in a small dividend for the Delaware senator in his current bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Biden picked up the endorsement of Jack Carter, a son of former President Jimmy Carter and last year's Democratic nominee for the Senate in Nevada. Jack Carter got trounced by the incumbent Republican, John Ensign, but his backing certainly can't hurt Biden in a state with an early caucus.

Jack's dad hasn't entered the fray, but the Carter-Biden connection goes back to when he was a little known ex-governor of Georgia who audaciously --- in the view of virtually every Democratic kingpin of the time --- had his eye on the party's 1976 presidential nod. With the Republicans burdened by the Watergate scandal, a veritable who's who of Democrats were in the race. These included several of Biden's colleagues on Capitol Hill --- Sens. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington state, Lloyd Bensten of Texas, Birch Bayh of Indiana and Rep. Mo Udall of Arizona.

But Biden, then serving his first Senate term and barely into his 30s, decided early on that Jimmy Carter had the right message and a winning touch, the lawmaker's onetime chief of staff, Ted Kaufman, recalled on Monday. So he took what then seemed like a leap of faith and became, Kaufman said, the first elected official outside of Georgia to endorse him.

"We took a lot of grief" inside Washington, Kaufman added. But, of course, it turned out that Biden saw what was coming long before other political pros. And now --- facing steep odds in his own presidential quest --- he hopes that Jack Carter proves similarly prescient.

Jimmy Carter made his initial splash in the '76 race with his showing in the Iowa caucus (he finished second to "uncommitted"). Few had paid much attention to this contest previously; as Kaufman noted, Carter essentially "invented" the importance of Iowa in the nominating process.

Biden made reference to this in the release announcing Jack Carter's support, saying he expected it to help in Iowa, "where the Carter name is revered."

Maybe. But given that caucus-goers always have tended to be older voters, we trust Biden isn't counting on too much overlap between those who showed up in 1976 and those who will participate in this cycle.

-- Don Frederick