Presidential candidate Joseph Biden Jr. told this newspaper during an interview last May that he had gone to law school ``on a full academic scholarship'' - a claim that has now proved to be false. Senator Biden made a similar statement about his scholarship at a campaign stop in Claremont, N.H., last April 3, and the Delaware Democrat now concedes that his statement was not accurate.
Political analysts say that a string of charges against Mr. Biden, including his admission that he once cribbed on a law school paper, has staggered the Biden campaign at a critical moment.
Privately, some top-ranking analysts say the campaign is finished. But others are more cautious.
Peter Kelly, chairman of the California Democratic Party, says: ``It is unclear yet how hurt Biden is going to be by events of the last couple of days.''
Mr. Kelly adds: ``My first reaction was that he wasn't hurt that seriously.'' However, as new details have unfolded, Kelly says that now he is ``not so sure.''
Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of a newsletter, The Cook Political Report, says: ``It would have been real tough for them to recover before this last round [of disclosures]. But now I believe it's impossible.''
Biden's troubles began with charges Sept. 19 that he had plagiarized a TV commercial of British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. There were also accusations that he had used the words of Robert Kennedy, John Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey without giving credit.
The latest round, however, has expanded the list of charges. Biden is accused of, and he has admitted, making inaccurate or exaggerated statements about his academic achievements.
Among those claims was one that he finished in the top half of his graduating class in law school, and that he was named the outstanding student in political science while at the University of Delaware. He also made misstatements about his scholarship.
During his interview with this reporter on May 21, Biden said:
``I went off to law school on a full academic scholarship.''
In fact, his scholarship amounted to about half of the $1,620 tuition at Syracuse University, and was based on financial need, rather than academic promise.
In his Monitor interview, Biden admitted that he had a poor first year in law school at Syracuse, but added:
``After that I did fine. I came on strong. But it was ... fear that mobilized me.''
It was disclosed last week that one factor in Biden's poor first year at Syracuse was that he was caught cribbing from a law journal in writing an assigned brief, and was given an ``F'' in the course.
The faculty decided that he should have the opportunity to take the course again during his second year, however, and that time he earned a ``B.''
But Biden's reference that he ``came on strong'' after his first year appears to be in some contrast to his academic record, which he released to the press.
Those records show that Biden was ranked 80th in a class of 100 during his first year, 79th of 87 the second year, and 76th of 85 the final year. That would indicate he was in the bottom 20 percent during his first year, the bottom 10 percent during his second year, and the bottom 11 percent his final year.
Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says Biden's campaign now is in the hands of his contributors.
If funds dry up, he would probably have to call off his effort, Dr. Ornstein says. ``But if he can get money to reach Iowa, and we move into the phase of the debates, and there are no more revelations, then he may have an opportunity to make a comeback.''
Mr. Cook says Biden's greatest problem now is his credibility.
``His credibility is just shot now,'' says Cook.
In a statement issued this week, Biden responded to the newest charges:
``As the complete record of my law school career indicates, which I released to the press last week, I did not graduate in the top half of my class at law school and my recollection of this was inaccurate,'' Biden stated.
``With regard to my being the outstanding student in the political science department, my name was put up for that award by Prof. David Ingersoll.'' But Biden was not selected for the prize.
As an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, Biden graduated 506th in a class of 688. He earned a ``C'' average.
The fuss over Biden's college records arose even though he never claimed to be a great scholar. In his Monitor interview, he said:
``I thought law school ... was one of the dullest undertakings in the world.''