Biden’s Alter Ego to Succeed Him in Senate

Posted January 14, 2009 at 6:18pm

Meet Sen.-elect Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), Joseph Biden’s alter ego, who is set to be sworn in on Friday as the incoming vice president’s Senate successor.

Kaufman spent 19 years as chief of staff to Biden, the First State’s senior Senator who officially resigns his seat today after 36 years.

Kaufman’s family roots are in Pennsylvania, but he’s spent most of his life in Wilmington, just like Biden; his policy interests lie in foreign relations and the judiciary, just like Biden; and he considers himself a “Senate guy” who loves the institution, just like Biden.

But unlike Biden, Kaufman, 69, is an engineer by trade, and his approach to decision making is decidedly more deliberative. Kaufman’s personality, while warm, is seemingly less colorful than Biden’s, leaving Delaware’s incoming junior Senator less prone to extemporaneous, headline-demanding soliloquies.

And, while he’s on board with President-elect Barack Obama’s agenda and likely to be one of the new administration’s biggest Senate allies, Kaufman noted that he doesn’t work for the White House and is looking forward to the first time they butt heads. Oh, and he won’t be commuting to work every day by train from Wilmington, as Biden did for the entirety of his nearly four-decade Senate career. Kaufman is currently looking for a place to live in Washington, D.C.

“Obviously I worked hard for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and I really support what they do. And I’m sure that 90 percent of the stuff I will totally agree with,” Kaufman said Tuesday during an interview. “But I am, to be totally honest with you, looking forward to the first fight, where we don’t agree.”

Kaufman, about two months shy of his 70th birthday, left Biden’s Senate office in 1995 after 23 years, but since then has remained closely associated with the vice president-elect’s political campaigns, including his unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Kaufman also helped lead Biden’s vice presidential transition team.

Kaufman, married for nearly 50 years with three daughters and seven grandchildren, has spent the past dozen years or so teaching a course on Congress at Duke University — where he obtained a graduate degree in mechanical engineering — and working as a government relations consultant. Kaufman also earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kaufman has never worked as a lobbyist, a fact he was quick to point out, although he said he eschews Obama’s disdain for lobbyists and the K Street community.

Kaufman will serve on the Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees — as Biden’s chief of staff from 1972 to 1995, Kaufman has extensive experience helping to run the panels — and said his Senate office will have an open-door policy to any individual who can provide the information he needs to do his job and adequately serve his constituents.

“This whole lobbyist jihad — I think it’s awful,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman does not plan to stand for election in November 2010, when a special election will be held to determine who will serve out the remainder of Biden’s seventh six-year term. Biden secured his Senate re- election in November even as he sought the vice presidency.

Kaufman said he would not have accepted Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s (D) appointment to succeed Biden had running in 2010 been a requirement.

Kaufman views that decision as good government policy and in the best interest of Delawareans. Not only does it mean he can devote 100 percent of his time to legislating and trying to problem-solve, but it leaves the seat open to fresh faces without the advantage of incumbency.

Some Republicans have charged that Kaufman is keeping the seat warm for Biden’s son — Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (D) — as a favor to a family he has been tight with for 36 years. Kaufman emphatically denies the suggestion, although he conceded the vice president-elect played a role in his appointment, as would be expected of Delaware’s leading Democrat. The younger Biden, currently serving in Iraq as a captain in the National Guard, refused consideration for the appointment but has not ruled out running in 2010 for his father’s seat.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) acknowledged Wednesday that he is targeting the First State and is in the process of recruiting Delaware’s popular, at-large Representative, Mike Castle (R), to run. The 69-year-old former governor has long indicated his interest in running for the Senate should a seat ever open up, but he has yet to reveal his 2010 plans.

“If somebody like Congressman Castle decided to run, he would be a very strong candidate,” Cornyn said. “Being in the House right now — and as a Republican — is not a lot of fun. So I think it’s more fun, and you can have a lot of impact being in the Senate right now, so I hope he’ll come join us.”

Kaufman moved to Delaware in 1966 to take a job with Dupont and quickly immersed himself in local Democratic politics. Six years later he found himself volunteering for Biden, a brash, 29-year-old county councilman engaged in a long-shot challenge of a popular Republican incumbent. Kaufman, then 32, considered Sen. Caleb Boggs (R) unbeatable. As Kaufman recalls, he told Biden as much.

“I met with him and I said to him: ‘You don’t have a chance of winning,’” Kaufman said. “I said, ‘Joe, I just can’t, in good conscience, stand here and tell you that I think you can win. I just don’t think you can win.’”

But Biden did win. Now, more than 30 years later, Kaufman is prepping to take office and using Biden as his model — with just one exception. Where Biden throughout his career had higher aspirations and built an intimate but powerful political machine at home, Kaufman’s Senate office will be devoid of electoral politics. For the next nearly two years, Kaufman will not raise one dime in political contributions nor will he deliver one campaign stump speech — at least on his own behalf.

But Kaufman said he’s more than ready to start legislating, retaining 80 percent of Biden’s Senate staff and calling on his own stable of relationships in the chamber, both on the staff side and among the Democratic Conference, most notably Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Daniel Inouye (Hawaii).

Kaufman has hired Quinn Gillespie & Associates Vice Chairman Jeff Connaughton as his chief of staff. Connaughton previously worked for Biden and in the White House under then-President Bill Clinton.

Washington attorney Mark Gitenstein, a former Biden aide on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees who helped direct the vice presidential transition, described Delaware’s soon-to-be Senator as knowledgeable on financial and diplomatic matters and a supporter of the “whole agenda” that Biden worked on for more than 30 years.

“He is one of the most competent public servants I know,” Gitenstein said. “He’s very principled and very dedicated.”