By August 1987, Biden's campaign, whose messaging was confused due to staff rivalries, had begun to lag behind those of Michael Dukakis and Richard Gephardt, although he had still raised more funds than all candidates but Dukakis, and was seeing an upturn in Iowa polls. In September 1987, the campaign ran into trouble when he was accused of plagiarizing a speech by Neil Kinnock, then-leader of the British Labour Party. Kinnock’s speech included the lines:
"Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? [Then pointing to his wife in the audience] Why is 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?"
While Biden’s speech included the lines:
"I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? [Then pointing to his wife in the audience] Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers 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?"
Though Biden had cited Kinnock as the source for the formulation many times before, he made no reference to the original source at the August 23 Iowa State Fair debate in question or in another appearance. While political speeches often appropriate ideas and language from each other, Biden's use came under more scrutiny because he somewhat distorted his own family's background in order to match Kinnock's.
A few days later, Biden's plagiarism incident in law school came to light. It was also revealed that when earlier questioned by a New Hampshire resident about his grades in law school, Biden had inaccurately recollected graduating in the "top half" of his class, that he had attended law school on a full scholarship, and had received three degrees in college. He had in fact earned a single B.A. with a double major in history and political science, had received a half scholarship to law school based on financial need with some additional assistance based in part upon academics, and had graduated 76th of 85 in his law school class.