Washington (AFP) - Former vice president Joe Biden insisted Sunday he had never acted inappropriately towards women as a growing row about a kiss on the campaign trail cast a shadow over his expected run for the White House.
The 76-year-old Biden is the clear favorite to win the Democrat nomination to take on Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election even though he has yet to declare his candidacy.
But several of his rivals have now weighed in on the allegations from a former state lawmaker who has recalled being "mortified" when Biden had planted a "big, slow kiss" on the back of her head on the sidelines of a rally in Nevada five years ago.
His 39-year-old accuser Lucy Flores said in a new television interview that Biden's behavior meant he should not run for president shortly after Biden released a statement trying to quell the storm.
"In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once -- never -- did I believe I acted inappropriately," Biden said in his statement released by his spokesman on Twitter.
"If it is suggested that I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.
"I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will."
Flores, who was a state lawmaker at the time, had been running for the post of Nevada lieutenant governor when Biden appeared at a rally to offer support when Barack Obama's number two.
In response to Biden's statement, Flores said she was "glad he's willing to listen" but added that his behavior should rule him out from seeking the Democrat nomination against a president who has himself faced multiple accusations of sexual harassment.
"For me it's disqualifying," she told CNN.
"Yes, of course I want him to change his behavior. And I want him to acknowledge this was wrong. I want this to be a bigger discussion about how there is no accountability structure within our political space either for instances in which women feel that there was inappropriate behavior or more serious instances."
Biden has previously acknowledged that his "tactile" behavior could land him in trouble, especially in the #MeToo era which has already torpedoed the careers of several US politicians, including the former Democrat senator Al Franken.