If Jimmy Carter's ascendancy to the White House in 1976 was about rebuilding trust after Watergate and Bill Clinton's triumph in 1992 boiled down to 'it's the economy, stupid,' then next year's presidential race will hinge on the debate over foreign policy.
That's the first part of what U.S. Sen. Joe Biden told 150 people Monday at the York County Democratic Party headquarters in downtown Rock Hill.
The second is that he knows more about the subject than anyone else in the field, making him the best presidential candidate to meet the lofty challenge the next president will face: In Biden's words, to "literally change the direction of the world."
"This has been the most disastrous administration in terms of American security, in terms of American safety, of any president in modern history," he said. "These guys are criminally negligent. We are weaker today, we are more isolated today than we ever have been."
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Though his role as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee makes him one of Washington's most visible figures, Biden's second run for the White House hasn't generated much momentum.
A poll released Sunday shows him running at 2 percent in South Carolina behind four others. In a half-hour talk punctured with jabs of his finger and sharp critiques of the Bush administration, Biden argued numbers don't matter much now -- his experience and ability to work across party lines will count when voters start paying attention.
"I predict whether it's me or not, it's not going to be one of the two front-runners," he said. "...The fact is, people haven't begun to make up their minds yet."
That claim proved true for retired teacher Deborah Barnocky, who came from the River Hills to hear Biden's talk.
"He's one of the few candidates who actually gives you a more detailed answer to a question," she said. "(But) he's going to need a lot more exposure. In the debates, when you have the 10-second answer, how in the world can anybody answer a question thoroughly?"
A kinship with Hollings
Biden has a long history with South Carolina. Just before he could take office after an upset Senate victory in 1972, his wife, Neilia, and his 18-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed when a tractor-trailer truck hit the family's station wagon.
Biden, then 29, planned on quitting to take care of his surviving young sons. But former S.C. Sen. Fritz Hollings and his wife, Peatsy, were among those who reached out to help -- and convince him to stay in the Senate.
"They in a sense saved my life," he said. "Folks, I owe South Carolina an awful lot because of Fritz. And I learned a lot from that other fellow, the old Stromboli. I sat next to Strom for 30 years."
Biden came to South Carolina in 2003 to give the eulogy for Sen. Strom Thurmond, his longtime colleague on the Judiciary Committee. Now, Biden says he's counting on the state to give him the bounce he needs to hang in.
"People know them enough to know whether they like them or not," he said of the Democratic front-runners. "People don't know me enough."
View a video of Joe Biden's Rock Hill stop at:
High school to host Obama
Barack Obama's trip to Rock Hill has been scheduled for Saturday at Northwestern High School.
Obama will hold a 8 p.m. rally in the school's gymnasium. Doors open at 7. Tickets from a postponed earlier event will be valid.
More tickets will be made available because the Northwestern gym seats about 2,500 -- more if seats are put on the floor. Two weeks ago, about 1,500 were expected for a meeting at the Freedom Center.
More details will be announced this week, an Obama spokesman said.