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How Joe Biden went from being a kid from Scranton to a six-term Senator, VP, and now the President-elect

Summary List Placement President-elect Joe Biden is turning 78 years old on Friday, November 20, making him the oldest person to take office as US president in history.  After two unsuccessful runs for president in 1988 and 2008, a hard-fought 2020 Democratic primary with over a dozen opponents, and running a...

Joe Biden

Summary List Placement

President-elect Joe Biden is turning 78 years old on Friday, November 20, making him the oldest person to take office as US president in history. 

After two unsuccessful runs for president in 1988 and 2008, a hard-fought 2020 Democratic primary with over a dozen opponents, and running a general election campaign during a pandemic, Biden achieved his decades-long goal of winning the presidency. 

Biden and Vice president-elect Kamala Harris are now preparing to take over the White House as the United States enters one of the most challenging times in recent history with cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, skyrocket nationwide and many Americans descend into further economic distress. 

Biden has long used his resiliency against adversity and his own personal struggles with grief and loss to connect with and reassure voters.

Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on November 20, 1942, Biden moved with his family to Mayfield, Delaware, when he was 13 years old. From the get-go, he faced many trials growing up, including bullies and an embarrassing stutter.

As he says his father, a used car salesman, taught him, “The measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up.”

Throughout his long political career, Biden has overcome numerous family tragedies and challenges to achieve his political dreams.

Here’s how a kid from Scranton became a six-term senator, vice president, and now the 46th President-elect.

Joe Perticone, Michal Kranz, and Natalie Colorassi contributed to an earlier version of this article.

SEE ALSO: Joe Biden’s Cabinet-in-waiting: Meet the people in play for a new administration, who could fill key roles like secretaries of state and defense, COVID czar, and chief of staff

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. graduated from the University of Delaware in 1965, where he developed an interest in politics following President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. During his first two years, though, he was mainly interested in football and partying.

Source: Biography.com, Times

He met his first wife Neilia on a spring break trip in the Bahamas his junior year. The couple had three children: Joseph “Beau” Hunter III, Robert Hunter, and Naomi Christina Hunter.

Sources: Biography, CNN

Fresh out of University of Syracuse law school in 1968, Biden started working as a defense attorney in Wilmington, Delaware, and launched his own law firm in 1971. He first entered politics as a member of the New Castle County Council in 1970.

After encouragement from the Democratic Party, Biden ran for US Senate in 1972 and won, unseating Republican J. Caleb Boggs to become the fifth-youngest senator in history. He would continue serving as Delaware’s senator for over 30 years.

Sources: BiographyCNN

A month after the election, Biden’s wife Neilia and daughter Naomi were killed in a car accident while Christmas shopping on December 18, 1972. The crash also left his two sons Hunter and Beau seriously injured.

Sources: BiographyCNN

Despite his intense personal loss, Biden was sworn in as Senator in January of 1973 from a hospital in Wilmington where his sons were still recovering from the accident that killed their mother and sister.

Source: Biography

Following the crash, Biden said he became seriously suicidal: “I felt God had played a horrible trick on me, and I was angry.” Just like his father had taught him, Biden got back up after his family tragedy.

Sources: BiographyTime

Biden got his hands dirty as a young Senator — working on consumer protection, international arms control, and crime in the 1970s. He met his current wife, Jill, on a blind date his brother arranged in 1975. The two married in 1977, and their daughter, Ashley Blazer, was born in 1981.

Biden won reelection yet again in 1982, and in 1984, became one of the main managers in the Senate for the passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, a sweeping crime bill that, although controversial, represented one of his most important legislative accomplishments up to that point.

Sources: Biography, US Congress, Chicago Tribune

Having gained foreign policy experience in the late 1970s, Biden clashed with the Reagan administration over the SALT treaties to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, and over sanctions against apartheid in South Africa.

Sources: BiographyCNN

In 1987, Biden became the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a role he held until 1995. It was largely due to his tough questioning that Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork was not confirmed.

In 1987, Biden entered the 1988 presidential race — his first, but not his last, run for Commander in Chief. But he had to drop out of the primaries because of reports he had plagiarized part of a speech.

Sources: BiographyCNN

Shortly afterward, Biden had to overcome another potential tragedy. His doctors found two possibly deadly aneurysms in his brain. In 1988, he underwent two different life-saving surgeries. Seven months later, Biden was back in Congress.

Sources: BiographyCNN

In January 1990, Biden introduced another landmark bill — the Violence Against Women Act, which reformed penalties for sexual assault and domestic abuse. The bill eventually passed, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1994.

Source: CNN

Under former President George W. Bush, Biden became the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and utilized his past foreign policy experience as committee chairman from 2001-03, and again from 2007 to 2009. In 2002, Biden voted to authorize the War in Iraq, but later criticized the war and especially the 2007 troop surge.

Sources: BiographyCNN, Atlantic

In 2007, Biden decided to run for president again — and while his run this time was scandal-free, he dropped out of the primaries after falling behind then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Source: CNN

But he got on the ticket after Obama clinched the Democratic Party nomination in mid-2008, and chose Biden as his running mate.

Source: CNN

In November 2008, Obama won a landslide election to become the country’s first black president, with Biden joining him as vice president. The pair defeated Sen. John McCain and his running mate, former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin.

Source: CNN

During his tenure as vice president, Biden worked largely behind the scenes, and while he was known to be somewhat gaffe-prone, he spearheaded important legislative efforts around gun control, fiscal policy, and foreign policy.

Obama again chose Biden as his running mate in 2012, and the two were overwhelmingly reelected. That May, Biden famously made comments that insiders say fast-tracked the Obama administration’s declaration of support for same-sex marriage.

Sources: BiographyCNNAtlantic, POLITICO

During Obama’s presidency, he and Biden developed a close friendship — even at one point jokingly making friendship bracelets for each other.

Source: Business Insider

Toward the end of his second term as VP, tragedy struck Biden yet again. His son Beau, who had been battling brain cancer, died at age 46 on May 30, 2015. “Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known,” the heartbroken father wrote.

Sources: BiographyCNN, Business Insider

Although he was encouraged to run for president for a third time in 2016, Biden declined to do so. Beau’s death played a prominent role in his decision.

Source: Biography

Many, including Biden himself, believed he would have fared better than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did, and beaten Trump had he run.

In one of his last acts as president, Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 2017. During his speech, Obama celebrated not just Biden’s achievements, but also his own personal “bromance” with his vice president.

Biden’s down-to-earth demeanor and passion for sensible policy will likely leave many fondly remembering his nearly 50 years of public service. But he is also contending with significant criticisms for support of controversial legislation over several decades.

Source: Huffington Post

Biden had to address accusations he inappropriately touched several women and made them feel uncomfortable.

Source: The New York Times

Biden launched his 2020 campaign in April, marking the third White House bid of his career.

Source: The Associated Press

Biden has made establishing himself as the antidote to President Donald Trump a cornerstone of his campaign.

Source: Business Insider

Biden stirred controversy in mid-June when he fondly recalled his time in Congress working with two segregationist senators. He was pummeled for the remarks by Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, the only two black Democratic presidential candidates. Booker said: “I know Joe Biden. He’s better than this. And this is a moment where he should have spoken to the issue, allowed everybody to learn from it and move on.” After initially refusing to apologize, Biden did so two weeks later.

Sources: The New York Times, Business Insider

Biden sparred with Harris over his civil rights record at the June Democratic primary debate. She sharply criticized Biden’s “very hurtful comments” about working with segregationist senators and brought attention to his past opposition to busing. He fired back, calling it “a mischaracterization.”

Source: The New York Times

Biden’s moderate platform has made him vulnerable to attack from the progressive wing of the party, particularly from Sen. Bernie Sanders on healthcare. Biden rolled out his own plan in July, which would shore up the Affordable Care Act by injecting massive new subsidies into its exchanges and expand it with a government-run public insurance option.

Sources: Politico, Business Insider

At the July Democratic primary debate, Biden came under fire from Booker over his 1994 criminal justice bill, which increased the incarceration rates of black Americans.

Source: Business Insider

An Insider poll began collecting data on Biden’s ability to defeat Donald Trump in August. From August to February, an average of 64% of voters polled believed Joe Biden was the strongest candidate to defeat Trump.

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider

But as early voting progressed, Biden faced the surging threat of Bernie Sanders, after the Senator took home victories in all three early voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

Source: Business Insider

In early February, just over half of Democratic voters polled said they thought Biden could beat Trump in the general election, reflecting a 14-point hit as Sanders gained traction.

Source: Business Insider

But Super Tuesday brought the former vice president back toward the lead. Biden took home victories in 10 of the 14 states — including delegate-rich Texas — giving him the most delegates out of any candidate in the race so far.

Source: Business Insider

The Super Tuesday results showed that Biden dominated among southern and older Black voters.

Source: Business Insider

As he went head-to-head with Sanders, Biden saw a surge in political endorsements. Former presidential candidates Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg have dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden’s campaign.

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider

Insider polling suggested that Biden was considered one of the most centrist candidates in the race, and the most experienced candidate running for president.

Source: Business Insider

Biden unofficially clinched the nomination when Sanders dropped out of the race on April 8. He then entered a general election campaign fundamentally altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For most of 2020, Biden only conducted virtual campaign events and media appearances from his Delaware home, occasionally venturing out for socially distanced speeches or campaign stops.

The 2020 presidential campaign was shaped by the pandemic, the resulting economic turmoil, and widespread protests over police brutality and systemic racism after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd.

In August, Biden announced Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate. Harris made history as the first Black woman and the first Asian-American woman to serve on a major party ticket.

Biden formally accepted the Democratic nomination for president on August 20. The Democratic convention was set to be hosted in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but went almost entirely virtual due to the pandemic. Biden and Harris gave their acceptance speeches from Delaware.

After a hard-fought campaign, Biden defeated Trump for the presidency, winning the Electoral College with 306 votes compared to 232 votes for Trump.

Source: Business Insider

Biden won back the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin while Trump won Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and North Carolina.

Source: Business Insider

Even as Trump refuses to concede the election and his allies cast doubt on the results, Biden is forging ahead with meeting with transition advisers and announcing senior staff hires.

Source: Biden-Harris Transition

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