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Joe Biden to return to Iowa City before going to the Iowa State Fair, where his 1988 presidential campaign fell apart

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Joe Biden meet-and-greet

Biden campaign headquarters, Kennedy Plaza, 702 S Gilbert St, Suite 104, Iowa City — Wednesday, Aug. 7 at 6 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Big Grove Brewery. Wednesday, May 1, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Joe Biden is returning Iowa City on Wednesday for a meet-and-greet at his Kennedy Plaza campaign headquarters. The stop comes one day before the former vice president and current 2020 candidate takes the stage at the Iowa State Fair’s Political Soapbox, sponsored by the Des Moines Register.

A total of 24 presidential candidates will be speaking at the soapbox from Thursday, Aug. 8 to Saturday, Aug. 17, but Biden’s return to the state fair is unique. It was his performance at the 1987 Iowa State Fair that led to the collapse of Biden’s first run for president.

The fair that year featured a debate between Democratic candidates seeking the party’s 1988 presidential nomination — Biden, former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, Sen. Al Gore, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois — and during his closing statement, Biden spoke passionately about being “the first Biden in a thousand generations” to go to college.

Biden, it turned out, wasn’t the first in his family to go to college, but Neil Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, was, and Biden was using lines from a speech Kinnock gave in Wales three months earlier.

Speaking to the Welsh Labour Party on May 15, 1987, Kinnock, who came from a long line of coal miners, said:

“Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Why is my wife, Glenys, the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick? . . . Those people who could sing and play and recite and write poetry? . . . Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football?”

It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.

In his closing remarks at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 23, 1987, Biden said:

Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? Why is it my wife, sitting out there in the audience, is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our father and mother were not bright? Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree? That I was smarter than the rest? Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse? Is it because they didn’t work hard? My ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours? …

It’s because they didn’t have a platform upon which to stand.

Biden’s plagiarism went unnoticed until two weeks later, when the Dukakis campaign started giving reporters videotapes featuring both speeches. (The Biden campaign immediately, and incorrectly, accused the Gephardt campaign of circulating the tapes. Dukakis went on to win the nomination, but lost the 1988 general election to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.)

“Biden acknowledged using the Briton’s lines without attribution,” the Los Angeles Times reported after news of the plagiarism broke. “He said it had occurred only once, that he had been pressed for time and that ‘if I’d have thought, I would have attributed it to him.’ But Biden said he had done no wrong, was not sorry — and had not even made a mistake.”

Reporters soon found other examples of Biden using lines from Kinnock’s speech without attribution, and other incidents of plagiarism stretching back to Biden’s days in law school.

Biden never recovered from the revelations, and ended his campaign on Sept. 23, 1987.

Asked by the Washington Post about what the 1987 plagiarism problem means for Biden’s 2020 bid, Ted Kaufman, who was Biden’s chief of staff in 1987 and remains a key advisor, said, “Look at his incredible record of truth telling since then. We’re very proud of how this campaign has been run to date. . . . Any similarity between this and 1987, I don’t see it — any similarity.”

The two-hour Iowa City meet-and-greet (702 S Gilbert St, Suite 104) begins at 6 p.m. Biden will speak at the state fair on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

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