WASHINGTON — Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, staggered by admissions of plagiarism and embellishing his academic record, withdrew as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination today.
"I made some mistakes," Biden, his wife at his side, told a room crowded with reporters. "Now the exaggerated shadow of those mistakes has begun to obscure the essence of my candidacy and the essence of Joe Biden."
Biden said he had to choose between continuing his presidential campaign and chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork.
"And although it's awfully clear to me what choice I have to make, I have to tell you honestly I do it with incredible reluctance and it makes me angry. I'm angry with myself for having been put in the position--put myself in the position--of having to make this choice," he said.
"And I am no less frustrated at the environment of presidential politics that makes it so difficult to let the American people measure the whole Joe Biden and not just misstatements that I have made."
Drains 'Energy, Concentration'
The 44-year-old senator said he knows that "when the tide begins to roll" against a candidate it takes "all the time, energy and concentration" to put a campaign "back on track."
Reading from his statement, Biden said, "You know this is presidential politics where you press folks ask me, 'Biden, what's going to happen when the white-hot heat turns on?'
"You warned me what it was going to be like. I thought I knew. It's a tough arena. And I'm a big boy. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
Biden did not rule out a future run for the White House.
After his announcement, Biden returned to the Senate Caucus Room to lead the afternoon session of the Bork hearings. He was greeted with handshakes and pats on the back from senators of both parties and staff members.
"I would like to say the Democrats have now lost their most articulate spokesman," said Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the committee.
Biden, smiling broadly, thanked Thurmond, but joked, "I don't plan on moving over" to the GOP.
Near Bottom of Polls
Although Biden consistently had strong financial support, a critical factor in any presidential effort, his campaign never caught fire and he always languished near the bottom of polls in the early caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. He was frequently dogged by criticism of being a flashy speaker of little substance and a thin record of achievement in Congress.
Biden's withdrawal cut the field of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination to six, with Rep. Pat Shroeder of Colorado scheduled to announce next week whether she will make the race.
Biden is the second active candidate to bow out of the race, joining Gary Hart, the front-runner who quit after an escapade with a Miami model, Donna Rice, became public and forced him to withdraw.
Biden has come under fire in the last two weeks after admitting he exaggerated his academic credentials at Syracuse Law School, borrowed segments of speeches from other politicians and was disciplined in law school for plagiarizing a paper.
Last Thursday, he held an extraordinary news conference and declared that he had made some "dumb" mistakes but was in the race to stay.
However, Biden's attempt at damage control failed when a new videotape surfaced this week showing that he exaggerated his law school record in a heated exchange with a voter in New Hampshire last April.