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Four years ago, Biden almost ran against Democratic Front Runner Walter Mondale at the urging of Patrick Caddell, the controversial, often contentious political pollster who has preached the political power of the baby-boom generation. An early race would have been a typically bold move, and Biden still believes in Caddell's strategy for challenging the conventional leadership. But Biden finally said no: his daughter Ashley was only two, and his sons were still in high school. Caddell took his plan to Hart, becoming a principal strategist of the strongest challenge to Mondale. Later Caddell, a Biden adviser since 1972, announced that he would work for his friend or no one else in 1988. "In political terms," says a former ally, "Joe and Pat are really one candidate."
With 1988 on the horizon, Biden once more agonized over the decision. He fretted about his family and wondered whether he could campaign and also remain effective as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As more single- minded competitors went into overdrive last fall and winter, Biden inched along in second gear. In New Hampshire one night last October, Biden and his son Hunter were searching for a restaurant that might still be serving dinner, when he again began ruminating about family concerns. Turning to Hunter in the dark van, he asked, "What do you want me to do?" The teenager had a prompt response: "You should. If you don't do it now, I couldn't see you doing it some other time." Biden sighed: "Yeah, that's the thing."
Something else was nibbling at his resolve. The competition didn't faze him much, nor did he doubt his ability to master specific issues. But on the 7:20 p.m. to Wilmington recently, Biden talked quietly about the next President's responsibility "not only to have the right answers but also to energize this country at a time when it's both optimistic and doubting . . . I'd sit there and talk to myself and say, 'Am I the guy? Am I the guy to be able to do this?' . . . It's a very sobering thing." Yes, he finally told himself, I am the guy.