Appointed as a two-year caretaker to keep Joe Biden's seat warm for his son Beau Biden, Delaware's Ted Kaufman turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the 111th Senate. His rousing speeches on the floor of the upper chamber rattled Wall Street and rallied opposition to banks that are protected as too big to fail.
His signature amendment to break up the banks, introduced with Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, was opposed by the White House and ultimately defeated, but the debate raised the profile of the issue and helped lead to reforms that forced banks to spin off some of their proprietary trading desks.
The effort, which Kaufman said would have succeeded with White House support, built him a strong following and led to pleas that he run for reelection; were he pitted today against Tea Party backed Christine O'Donnell, he'd no doubt be polling far ahead of her. (Beau decided not to run.)
But, Kaufman said in an interview with the Huffington Post, there's a paradox at work: If he'd been running for reelection, he wouldn't have those rabid backers, because he never would have waged his campaign against the banks - not because he would have worried it would hurt him politically, but simply because he would have had to spend more than half his time raising money and organizing his campaign.
"It is a perfect Catch-22," said Kaufman, explaining that his campaign against the banks "wouldn't have existed, no, because I'm not on the banking committee. I would have stuck to my bidding on judiciary and foreign relations."
And without the campaign against the banks, he wouldn't have the supporters he now does. "I wouldn't have this rabid" following, he said. "That's the whole thing. It was a Catch-22. There's no way I could have -- my race, if I ran, would be totally, you know, standard, cookie-cutter campaign. I wouldn't have had anything to show. I never would have been able to do any of the things that would really be the major things in my campaign, because the whole stuff I'd done on financial reform--we never would have been part of the debate."
Kaufman said he would have watched the debate from afar. "I would have said, 'Jeez, you know, I'm really upset about this and that,' but I wouldn't have had the time. I would not have not done it because I didn't think it was politically" the smart move, he said.
Were he running in 2010, he added, he'd be facing a massively well-funded opponent, thanks to his opposition to Wall Street. "If I was a senator from a big state, New York, California, Illinois, the money--you couldn't win against the intensity of something like that. I would have been totally overwhelmed by the money. I guarantee," he said. "If I was in Illinois, whoever my opponent was would be the best-funded person."
Kaufman said that the only way out of the paradox he experienced is to create a system of public financing for campaigns, but the Supreme Court is making that increasingly less attainable. "If I'm czar, not president of the United States of America, I'd institute public financing of campaigns. But that cat's long out," he said. "So I don't know what the answer is. I don't know what to say about the system. The system is so awful."