Here’s What Ended Joe Biden’s First Campaign for President in 1987 in Just 3 Months

Here’s What Ended Joe Biden’s First Campaign for President in 1987 in Just 3 Months
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Drew Angerer

President Biden has had a long stint in politics with many highs and lows. The first time that Biden ran for president was way back in 1988, with his candidature ending less than 3 months after a huge scandal blew over his presidential hope.

“What people don’t remember today about Biden in the 1980s is that he was considered by quite a few people as a bright new hope, different from other Democrats,” said Laurence I. Barrett, a former TIME national political correspondent who profiled Biden throughout his three-month presidential campaign in 1988. 

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Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Howard L. Sachs
Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Howard L. Sachs


People were drawn to the then-44-year-old Senator's young enthusiasm and his ability to give exciting speeches, but he could also come out as a “hothead.” His position in the Senate, in particular, provided him with an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities.

As chair of the Judiciary Committee, Biden intended to attract national prominence during the outcry surrounding divisive conservative Supreme Court candidate Robert Bork. In charge of the confirmation proceedings, Biden oversaw what was billed as “the culminating ideological showdown of the Reagan era,” as TIME magazine put it back then. “For Chairman Biden, the hearings could provide a spark for his presidential campaign by giving him a chance to show his mettle in front of a national television audience.” 


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However, Biden did not get the opportunity to shine during the Bork hearings as he had intended. A few days before they started, a video surfaced that spliced together images of UK leader Neil Kinnock giving a speech and Biden paraphrasing Kinnock without attribution at the Iowa State Fair. More incidents of misattribution emerged, and the plagiarism controversy overtook his leadership during the Bork confirmation hearing. His words — or, more accurately, what he didn't say — put him in trouble yet again.

Following this, reporters discovered that he had failed a class in 1965 because he used five pages from a published law review article without necessary quotation marks or footnotes. Biden failed to reap the benefits of public confession with a rambling and incoherent opening address, even though he did call himself "stupid" and emphasized his actions were "a mistake." Part of the difficulty is that he contradicted himself by saying it was "ludicrous" to assign every political concept.

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But the "final blow" to Biden's campaign came when Newsweek found a C-SPAN film of him boasting about his academic achievements, including claiming to have graduated in the top half of his law school when, in reality, he ranked 76th out of 85. On September 24, 1987, Biden announced his withdrawal from the campaign.

He admitted in his memoir Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, that the plagiarism was his fault. “When I stopped trying to explain to everybody and thought it through, the blame fell totally on me,” he wrote. “Maybe the reporters traveling with me had seen me credit Kinnock over and over, but it was Joe Biden who forgot to credit Kinnock at the State Fair debate.”


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