The Democrats' dilemma deepens. Withdrawal of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. from the race for the White House leaves a wide-open contest, with no Democrat yet able to capture the imagination of his party.
Senator Biden, known as a stirring orator, was the favorite choice of Washington insiders. He excited crowds and raised money with ease. But he fell amid charges of plagarism and deception.
Before a crowded press conference here, he quit ``with incredible reluctance, and it makes me angry. But I'm angry at myself for having put myself in the position of having to make a choice.''
He vowed to come back in another presidential year.
Mr. Biden's exit adds to a picture of disarray within the Democratic Party, which has gone down to defeat in four of the past five presidential races.
``It reinforces the image of a Democratic Party which cannot manage its affairs,'' says Norman Ornstein, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. ``Democrats keep producing candidates who have blown up.''
Former Sen. Gary Hart withdrew earlier this year after reports of marital infidelity.
The departure of Biden immediately puts three things up for grabs: his contributors, his campaign staff, and his popular support.
Political analysts, such as Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, say Biden's most important asset was probably his ability to raise funds.
The Delaware senator worked the wealthy New York City-southern California axis. He had extensive Jewish support. Although he had not been in the race very long, he had already raised $3.3 million, according to the most recent report to the Federal Election Commission. That was second among Democrats, behind only Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts.
Governor Dukakis, who had raised $4.6 million, also is popular with Northeastern and California contributors, and appears in the best position to pick up Biden's support.
Biden also had a skilled political staff, including Tom Donilon, reputed to be the best delegate counter in the business, and Patrick Caddell, who helped engineer Sen. Gary Hart's come-from-behind race in 1984. It is unclear where Biden aides will go.
Among voters, Biden was just beginning to build his support at the grass roots, and garnered only 3 percent in the most recent Gallup poll of Democratic voters.
``He was way back in the pack. So he didn't leave a huge number of voters holding the bag,'' Dr. Ornstein observes.
Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of the Cook Political Report, says that when all factors are considered, it is probably Mr. Dukakis who benefits most from Biden's withdrawal.
Other analysts agree, but some feel it also helps United States Rep. Richard Gephardt, who has a strong organization in Iowa and shows up well in the polls there.
With Biden gone, Ornstein breaks the remaining field into three tiers.
Tier 1, with the best chances of winning the nomination, includes Dukakis and Congressman Gephardt.
Those men have national strategies, broader bases, and sufficient funds to push their campaign through at least one defeat.
Mr. Gephardt's strength is in Iowa, next door to his own state of Missouri. He has been there so often that his humorously called ``Iowa's seventh congressman.''
Dukakis has loads of money, plus overwhelming support in New Hampshire, the first primary state.
If he shows up in the top two or three in the Iowa caucuses, he could build great momentum in New Hampshire the following week.
Tier 2, in Ornstein's analysis, includes Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, and perhaps former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, in that order. Each of them gets at least a minor boost by Biden's withdrawal.
Tier 3 includes the Rev. Jesse Jackson and US Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, if she enters the contest.
Their bases are expected to be too narrow to win the nomination. But each could go into the national convention with some delegates, giving them the ability to have an impact on the platform and perhaps on the selection of the party's nominee.
All of this will now be secondary to Biden, who was once expected to be in the forefront of Democratic politics in 1988.
Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina said of Biden's pullout: ``The Democrats have now lost their most articulate spokesman.''
Biden said that in the wake of his withdrawal, he will pour all of his energies into the battle over the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the US Supreme Court.
As chairman of the Senate Judicary Committee, Biden was once expected to make a national name for himself during the confirmation fight. But various charges, including the accusation that he had inflated his academic record, undermined all of that.
Biden vowed to fight on for what he believed:
``I still believe it's time to rekindle the spirit of idealism in this country,'' he said as he withdrew.