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After winning the majority of states on Super Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden has firmly cemented his role as frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president. Of the various candidates who have vied for the nomination, Biden has one of the highest public profiles, having served as Vice President under President Barack Obama.
Biden’s career in politics was already well established prior to joining Obama’s ticket in 2008.
Biden has unsuccessfully run for president twice before. His 2020 campaign is built on appealing to traditional Democrats with centrist policies, offering a stark contrast to the progressive agenda of Senator Bernie Sanders.
Joe Biden’s early entry into politics
Biden grew up in rural Scranton, Pennsylvania, and attended the nearby University of Delaware. After meeting the woman who would become his first wife, Neilia Hunter, Biden applied to Syracuse University where she was studying. He completed a law degree there and, having married Neilia in 1966, moved to Wilmington, Delaware to take a job with a law firm in 1968.
As a member of the Democratic Party, Biden was elected to the New Castle County Council in 1970. He only had to wait two more years, though, for his political career to reach the national stage. Running against a Republican incumbent for a Delaware Senate seat, Biden won and became the fifth youngest senator in US history.
By the early 80s, there was talk of Biden running for president. However, a car accident just before Christmas 1972 killed Neilia and their infant daughter, Naomi. Biden’s two sons, Hunter and Beau, were also in the car and suffered injuries, but survived.
Biden married his current wife, Jill Biden (née Stevenson), in 1977.
Senator Joe Biden
As a senator, Biden had a career distinguished by notable legislative victories, though changing political realities have made some of those victories liabilities in the 2020 election.
In 1994, Biden helped shepherd the Violence Against Women Act through Congress. The act, which was reauthorized in 2019, funds programs for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. As part of Biden’s 2020 run, the campaign has released the Biden Plan to End Violence Against Women, which expands on the original act by increasing funding, addressing online abuse, and more.
Biden is also running on a promise to reform the criminal justice system, a stance that ironically highlights one of Biden’s more politically controversial bills.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was passed with considerable help from Biden. That bill has come under attack in recent years for its role in contributing to mass incarceration, especially as it pertains to minorities.
Biden has alternatively defended and apologized for aspects of that bill in this presidential campaign. Yet, in 1994, the bill was widely supported by Democrats. Even Sanders, an independent representative in the House at the time, voted for it. Republicans at the time were said to have objected to the final version of the bill as being too “soft.”
Another prominent moment that Biden has had to apologize for is his role in the nomination process of Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991.
Thomas had been accused of sexually harassing a subordinate, Anita Hill. Biden has stated that Hill was mistreated in the hearing, with her being subjected to attacks from Republicans. Biden has said he regrets not doing more to protect her.
Biden for president
Biden has run for president twice before, once in 1988 and again in 2008. His run for the presidential nomination in 1988 ended abruptly after stories surfaced in which he was found to have plagiarized other speakers and writers multiple times in his academic career.
Biden also ran in 2008, using his platform at times to criticize eventual nominee and general election winner, Barack Obama. Nonetheless, Obama selected Biden to be his Vice President after Biden dropped out of the race.
In this election, Biden has established himself as the centrist alternative to the far right policies of President Trump and the far left policies of Senator Sanders. For instance, Biden opposes Sanders’ progressive Medicare for All plan. Instead, Biden has proposed expanding the Affordable Care Act which passed under Obama.
Biden has received negative press this election cycle for a series of gaffes and speaking errors on the campaign trail. This has been used to suggest he is mentally unfit to be president, including by Trump, who has faced similar situations.
In the past, Biden has openly discussed dealing with a stuttering problem.
Joe Biden’s sons
Biden explained in a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair that he decided against running for president in 2016 due to the death of his eldest son, Beau. Beau, who had been the attorney general of Delaware and an army officer, died of brain cancer on May 30, 2015.
Footage from Beau’s funeral included an emotional eulogy from President Obama and many tearful shots of Joe Biden.
Biden’s second son, Hunter Biden, has been thrust into the spotlight this past year because of the Ukrainian scandal that led to President Trump’s impeachment. In 2014, Hunter received a well-paying consulting job with Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
Trump and his allies have argued that the former vice president used his position to get Hunter the job and protected Burisma from a corruption investigation.
Despite Trump’s efforts to get the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation into the Bidens, reports state that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Joe or Hunter Biden. Nonetheless, polling has found that most Americans believe it was inappropriate for Hunter to have taken the job while Biden was Vice President.