How Joe Biden went from small-time councilman to the White House
He eked his way into a US Senate seat by a mere 1 percent margin nearly 50 years ago — and used the stunning upset to launch a political career that just landed him in the White House.
President-elect Joe Biden has admitted that when he graduated from Syracuse Law School and began clerking for a well-known Republican lawyer in Delaware in 1968, he toyed with the idea of joining the GOP — at least briefly.
“I thought of myself as a Republican for six or seven months,’’ the perennial pol said, according to Time in 1987.
But Biden, the 77-year-old son of a used-car salesman, has said he always prided himself on his blue-collar roots, first stemming from his native Scranton, Pa., and then from growing up in scrappy Claymont, Del. — eventually leading him to refer to himself as “Middle Class Joe.”
Biden’s first foray into politics was his long-shot bid for a seat on the governing council of Delaware’s New Castle County, which includes Wilmington, in 1970.
A youthful charismatic Biden campaigned on issues such as affordable housing — and his surprising win buoyed the then-flailing local Democratic Party, which soon saw him as its best possible chance to unseat longtime Delaware US Sen. Cale Boggs.
In 1972, Biden narrowly beat Boggs on an anti-politics-as-usual platform — winning by just 1 percent of the vote — to become the Senate’s youngest member at the time. He was 30.
Then six months later, unimaginable tragedy struck the rising-star married dad of three.
On Dec. 18, 1972, Biden’s wife, Neilia, 30 — a native of Skaneateles in upstate New York — was in the family station wagon with sons Beau, 3, and Hunter, 2, and 13-month-old daughter Naomi when their car was hit by a tractor-trailer around 2:30 p.m. on a rural road outside of Wilmington. The mom and kids had been Christmas shopping.
The impact sent the station wagon careening down an embankment and into three trees, killing Neilia and Naomi and critically injuring Beau and Hunter.
Two weeks later, a grief-stricken Biden would famously take his oath of office for his first Senate term at Beau’s hospital bedside.
Forty-three years later, Joe Biden would suffer another devastating personal loss — the death of Beau, a military hero who served in Iraq and went on to become Delaware’s attorney general. Beau was running for governor of the state when he died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.
Then-President Obama — for whom Biden was serving as vice president at the time — wept as he gave the eulogy at Beau’s funeral.
Even some of Biden’s most bitter political enemies admired his love for his family and cried with him over his personal losses through the years.
Biden won six consecutive six-year terms to the Senate, for a total of 36 years. At his side for nearly all of them was second wife Jill, an educator, whom he married in 1977. The couple has a daughter, Ashley.
Biden’s reign in the Senate included a lengthy stint as chairman of its powerful Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees.
His tenure also included plenty of controversies, from his opposition to court-ordered busing desegregation early on, to his handling of the 1991 US Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, for which Biden was ripped over his treatment of the nominee’s sex-harassment accuser, Anita Hill.
Biden also has been infamous for his speaking gaffes.
For example, in 2007, he described Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean.” A year earlier, he told an Indian-American supporter, “In Delaware . . . you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
Biden has had to deal with allegations of sexual harassment, too.
A former aide claimed that he pinned her against a wall in 1993 and reached under her skirt and assaulted her.
A slew of other women also stepped forward to say they had to withstand unwanted touching from Biden.
The pol has denied any claims of sex assault and said the other alleged unwanted touching was him just being a warm person.
But politically speaking, to his favor, Biden is known as a skilled behind-the-scenes negotiator who has worked both sides of the party aisle to achieve compromise. He also has been considered a foreign-relations expert.
Still, while Biden showed staying power as a senator, it took him three tries for the top job at the White House before he succeeded.
In 1988, Biden was forced to bow out of the Democratic Party’s primary race after he was accused of plagiarizing parts of a campaign speech and law-school paper. In 2008, he also had to exit the primary because of a poor showing in the polls, although he recovered by becoming former party foe Obama’s running mate and then serving alongside the country’s first black president for two terms.
Biden announced in April 2019 that he would launch another presidential bid — as he said late son Beau always wanted.
But if Biden’s love for his family fueled his political career, it also nearly derailed it.
Hunter Biden’s shady dealings with Russia and China have cast a dark shadow over his dad, with allegations of illegal influence-peddling still haunting his presidential father.
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