Has the liberal chattering class finally had enough of Joe Biden? Some say Biden shouldn’t be on the Democratic ticket this year because he forced President Obama’s hand on the same-sex marriage issue. And his gaffes just keep coming: He recently referred to Mitt Romney as “President Romney” (paging Dr. Freud!).
If you’re wondering why Delaware kept electing this guy to the Senate, you’re not alone. There are folks here in the Blue Hen State who’ve been asking that for years. It seems whenever there’s a large gathering of Delaware Republicans, somebody brings up the topic of Joe Biden — amid much grave shaking of heads. Ah, Joe Biden: the man the 2008 Obama campaign remade as “the scrappy kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania,” as if the Keystone State somehow had three senators. And what about Delaware, Biden’s home since 1953? In 2008, it seemed to have evaporated from scrappy Joe’s bio.
One longtime GOP operative told me that Biden rode a sympathy wave for decades. The sympathy came from the car-crash death of his first wife, Nicole, and their infant daughter in December 1972 — several weeks after Biden’s first election to the Senate. But the operative was amazed at the staying power of that sympathy in light of Biden’s remarriage five years later to his current wife, Jill. As he put it, “Biden’s been married to Jill for 30 years, but they still feel sorry for him about his first wife’s accident.”
I surmise that Biden (intentionally or not) locked in voters’ minds an image of himself as the grieving widower who came back to Delaware every evening to be with his surviving children. Thus, whenever people saw Biden on the Wilmington train platform, or at a local school event on the weekend, they would remember that Biden’s presence was due to Nicole’s death.
You might think that’s not enough for a re-election margin of victory, but Delaware is a very small state. It also gave Biden a lot of Teflon protection against his gaffes. By being accustomed to feeling sorry for the guy, Delaware voters found they could shrug off what Time’s Mark Halperin described in 2008 as Senator Biden’s “persistent tendency to say silly, offensive, and off-putting things.” Notably this tendency hasn’t diminished one jot for the now-Vice President Biden.
Four years ago, Barack Obama, a very junior senator, needed a number-two with foreign policy experience. Now, especially after the death of Osama bin Laden, some believe that President Obama has enough foreign policy experience without Biden.
Alert readers will recall that in April 2011, I reported seeing lots of Obama 2012 bumper stickers in Delaware but none with Biden’s name on them. That may be about to change, as I’ve noticed Biden’s name is now part of the logo on Obama’s campaign website.
Biden’s image also appears on a few official Obama campaign tchotchkes (but only a few — I think Obama’s dog is on more). My favorite item: the Joe Biden beer can holder, inscribed with the words “Cheers Champ,” whatever that means.
Despite these signs, I don’t think Biden should rest easy about his 2012 prospects. It might be that the campaign doesn’t want to have too much Biden product inventory on hand just yet. And staffers could erase any references to Biden on the campaign website in a blink of an eye. If that happens, Joe’s decades-long ride on the sympathy wave will finally be over.
Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at The Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.