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Delaware surprise -- all in the family?

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro, Mark Murray and Doug Adams

Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner will appoint longtime Joe Biden loyalist, adviser and former chief of staff Ted Kaufman to fill Biden's Senate seat when the vice-president-elect resigns.

 Per a Biden spokeswoman, the longest-serving Delaware senator will resign within the next 40 to 50 days.

"As you know, VP-elect Biden has been a senator for 36 years and is chairman of a major Committee," spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander tells NBC News. "He has two transitions going on, with the Senate and the Foreign Relations Committee, and he wants to ensure that they are as smooth as possible."

Biden won re-election to another six-year term in November (he was allowed to be on the ballot for both the presidential ticket and U.S. Senate seat). Under state law, however, a successor would serve through just 2010 and then there would be a special election for the seat.

So, given Kaufman's ties to Biden, is he just a placeholder for Biden's son Beau, Delaware's attorney general, who is currently on a one-year stint as an attorney with the Delaware National Guard in Iraq?

In a (lengthy) statement from Biden, he references his son and even indicates he would have been open to having him appointed to the seat. (Full statement after the jump.) Last week, Beau rejected the notion of being appointed.

"It is no secret that I believe my son, Attorney General Beau Biden would make a great United States Senator-just as I believe he has been a great Attorney General," Biden said. "But Beau has made it clear from the moment he entered public life, that any office he sought, he would earn on his own. He proved that two years ago when he turned down an appointment as Attorney General. Instead, he ran on his own and won election. Typical of Beau, he made it clear again his year that he would not accept an appointment to the United States Senate. As he said when he deployed overseas, he is determined to fulfill his military obligations and then return to his duties as Attorney General. If he chooses to run for the Senate in the future, he will have to run and win on his own. He wouldn't have it any other way. In making her decision, the governor has made it clear that whoever seeks the office in 2010 will do so from a level playing field. The voters will make that decision. For now, my concern is with Beau's safety, not his political future."

Kaufman has known Biden for more than three decades. They first met when Biden was a New Castle County councilman. Kaufman worked on Biden's 1972 Senate campaign, and when Biden won, he asked Kaufman to stay and help open his Wilmington office. Kaufman ended up working 22 years for Biden, the last 19 as his Senate chief of staff. He's worked on every one of Biden's campaigns since 1972.

Kaufman was also a senior adviser to Biden's short presidential campaign and was working on his Senate re-election campaign in Delaware when Biden asked him to come to the Obama team. He then went to work on his Senate re-election campaign this year. He spent the last three weeks of the campaign with Biden on the vice-presidential trail, according to reports.

In her press conference, Minner said she was seeking someone who was qualified, put the interests of Delaware first, and shares Joe Biden's values. She also hinted that Kaufman is not interested in re-election.

Full Biden statement:
"I believe that today Governor Minner has made a decision, as she has made all her decisions in public life, in the best interests of Delaware. This was a tough decision-but I think we all know that making tough decisions is not anything new for this Governor. She is tough, she is strong, and her legendary grit long ago earned my admiration and respect.

"Serving Delaware as your United States Senator has been the privilege of my life. And while I admit it is with some pride that I can say I've been your Senator longer than anyone in our state's history-I have never forgotten it is an honor that you, the voters, have bestowed upon me. From the time that the people of Delaware elected me to the U.S. Senate at the age of 29, this state has lifted me up in tough times and given me the chance to make a difference. I hope I have done so.

"I know this is was an unusual circumstance for the voters this year. And I want to thank the people of Delaware for the trust they placed in me. Now as I leave the Senate for the Vice Presidency, I believe Governor Minner has appointed the very best person she could have chosen to serve Delaware at this time in the United States Senate.

"I have known Ted Kaufman for over 30 years. He is a man of first-rate qualifications, unquestioned integrity and a long-time commitment to public service. As my Chief of Staff for 19 years, he was involved in many of the most important decisions I've made in the Senate. Further, he has been personally involved in handling many of the most important issues that we've faced in Delaware. From protecting Cape Henlopen, to putting more cops on the street, Ted has played a critical role in these accomplishments.

"Ted has also done the hard day-to-day work of a Senate office - answering constituent concerns, overseeing their casework and making sure the voters of Delaware have a strong advocate for them. So whether it's debating the biggest issues that come before the Senate, or helping a veteran or a senior citizen get the help they need, Ted has done it. He knows Delaware. And he knows the Senate. He'll be able to hit the ground running.

"Since the time he worked with me in the Senate, Ted has gone on to teach at Duke University, in the Law school, the Fuqua Business School, the Sanford Institute of Public Policy, and to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Ted's long service to Delaware has earned him the respect of virtually every community in our state - from business to education to labor to children's advocates to those committed to protecting our environment.

"There is no one who knows more about how the United States Senate works and no one who is more ready to do this job for Delaware than Ted Kaufman. Over the years, he has earned the respect of those who have served, like Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey and of those who are still there, like Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. He will make a great partner with Senator Tom Carper.

"I care deeply about this Senate seat and I care deeply about Delaware. And I can say with absolute confidence that with Ted Kaufman in the Senate, Delaware will be in very good hands.

"It is no secret that I believe my son, Attorney General Beau Biden would make a great United States Senator-just as I believe he has been a great Attorney General. But Beau has made it clear from the moment he entered public life, that any office he sought, he would earn on his own. He proved that two years ago when he turned down an appointment as Attorney General. Instead, he ran on his own and won election. Typical of Beau, he made it clear again his year that he would not accept an appointment to the United States Senate. As he said when he deployed overseas, he is determined to fulfill his military obligations and then return to his duties as Attorney General. If he chooses to run for the Senate in the future, he will have to run and win on his own. He wouldn't have it any other way.

"In making her decision, the Governor has made it clear that whoever seeks the office in 2010 will do so from a level playing field. The voters will make that decision. For now, my concern is with Beau's safety, not his political future.

"I have promised the Governor, and instructed my staff, to make sure we work closely with Senator Kaufman over the upcoming weeks to ensure an orderly transition and to make sure that at no point will the work of Delaware go undone.

"To the voters, again let me thank you for the trust you have placed in me. To Governor Minner, thank you for making this difficult decision. And to Senator Kaufman -- serve the people well. It will be for you, as it has been for me, the privilege of a lifetime."