Like Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Joe Biden was considered a political wunderkind when he first entered politics. Biden won a seat in the Senate from Delaware in November 1972 at age 29 and took office two months later at age 30, making him one of the youngest senators ever. Over the past three decades, Biden, now 65, has become known for his expertise on foreign policy and legal issues. And that experience is largely why Obama chose him as his vice presidential running mate.
Biden was born in Scranton, Pa., and his middle-class family moved to Delaware when he was a boy. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 1965 and earned a law degree from Syracuse University. After practicing law in Wilmington, he jumped to the Senate, where he has remained ever since.
Family. His success, however, came with deep personal tragedy. His first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, and their young daughter, Naomi, died in a car crash soon after his first Senate victory in 1972. He raised his two other children, Beau and Hunter, as a single father for five years. During that time, he commuted nearly every day that the Senate was in session, taking a 90-minute train ride each way between Wilmington and Washington to spend more time with his sons. Those train rides continued after he married Jill Jacobs, a teacher, in 1977.
Biden is widely liked and has earned a reputation for detailed knowledge of America's problems around the world as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also has a long history with legal issues as former chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
But none of this Capitol Hill luster transferred to Biden as a presidential candidate. He first ran for the White House in 1988, but his campaign went nowhere. He suffered a major setback when the news media reported that he had given speeches containing, without attribution, passages similar to those used by a noted British politician.
His second attempt at the White House also foundered this year. After dropping out of the race, he said he never really had much of a chance, despite his golden résumé. "Here you have for the first time in all American history a woman [Hillary Clinton] or African-American poised to be the next president," he said, "and there's no way to break through that."
Famous even among senators for being long-winded, he more recently has developed a reputation for being gaffe-prone. As Obama's running mate, for example, in complaining about President Bush's initial response to the financial crisis, Biden argued that when the stock market crashed in 1929, Franklin D. Roosevelt jumped immediately into action. "FDR got on television," Biden declared, and tried to reassure the country. In fact, Herbert Hoover was president in 1929 and TV was not a mass medium.
On the campaign trail, Biden has often been overshadowed by the star power of his Republican counterpart, Gov. Sarah Palin. If the Obama-Biden ticket wins, Biden expects to serve as a senior policymaker and confidant to the new president, putting his experience to good use.