In 1985, I had been editing and publishing for several years a
community newspaper in Minneapolis which featured, in
addition to local news, some of the political news and analysis
I thought the city’s daily newspaper was ignoring. At first, I
wrote mostly about city politics, but soon added state politics,
and along the way made a few election predictions that caught
some attention when they came true. I also began writing on
occasion about national and presidential politics. Focusing on
centrist issues and politics, I had suggested in 1982 that a
then-unknown Colorado senator, Gary Hart, might emerge in
1984. Since I had been the first journalist to predict this, I got
some very brief national attention when he did emerge.
In 1985, I thought I would try again for the next election in 1988.
Another young and unknown senator had caught my attention. His
name was Joe Biden. First elected to the U.S. senate in 1972 when
he was only 29 (he could take office only because his 30th birthday
was before the day he was to be sworn in), he almost didn’t serve
because his wife and daughter were tragically killed in an auto
accident. (He once told me that his grief made him decide to resign,
but that Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey at a December
meeting for incoming new senators persuaded him to take office.)
Two of his young sons survived the accident, and eventually he
remarried, had another daughter, and settled in as a senator from
Delaware. I had read about him, and he seemed to hold some
of the centrist policy views I then thought promising.
So I wrote a front-page editorial about him, and predicted he would
emerge as a serious contender for the 1988 Democratic nomination.
At some point later, Biden came to Minnesota for a speech, and I
met him. It turned out he had already been thinking about 1988, and
soon announced his candidacy, emerging as the most serious
opponent to Democratic front-funner Governor Michael Dukakis.
But fate once again intervened, and Biden was diagnosed with a
serious double aneuyrism that forced him to leave the race.
Biden recovered, and once again settled into a leading role in the U.S.
senate where he first became chairman of the judiciary committee
(where he helped lead the effort to block Robert Bork’s appointment
to the U.S supreme court), and later chairman of the foreign relations
In 2006, a newly-elected senator from Illinois sought Biden’s
counsel on senate matters, with Biden then serving as a mentor. The
new senator’s name was Barack Obama.
In 2008, Democratic nominee Obama chose Biden to be his vice
presidential running mate.
In 2016, after two terms as vice president, Joe Biden was inevitably
one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination along with
Hillary Clinton. But once again, tragedy stepped in when Biden’s
eldest son Beau, the Delaware attorney general with a bright
political future of his own, died of cancer. Overwhelmed with grief,
Biden chose not to run.
Now 77, Biden led in virtually all early public opinion polls for the
2020 Democratic nomination. With many other Democratic hopefuls
moving sharply the left, he held the premier reputation as a liberal
moderate or centrist.
In the primary and caucus system so far, Biden’s political prospects
have been on a roller coaster. The early favorite, his first debate
performances were weak, and his poll numbers sank. In the first
three voting states, he trailed Bernie Sanders badly, even finishing
behind Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren as well. But as Sanders
was gathering momentum toward nomination, Biden won the South
Carolina primary stronger than expected, A combination of the
Democratic Party establishment, several of his rivals, down-ballot
candidates, and black voters quickly coalesced around Biden, and
gave him significant victories (and the lead in national delegates)
on Super Tuesday in 14 states. Now the front-runner again, Biden has
dominated the next group of primaries, including just winning the
key state of Michigan.
Most political observers consider Biden to be the presumptive
2020 Democratic nominee. It’s now a two-person contest (reduced
from an original field of 28), and it is difficult to imagine how Sanders
can recover, barring the unforeseen, but the next debate is in a few
days, followed immediately by several large-state primaries on
I had almost forgotten my 1985 prediction that a then-unknown Joe
Biden could become a Democratic presidential nominee. A great
deal has happened in the U.S. and the world in the past 35 years, but
somehow the prediction might indeed come to pass.
American politics, one can only conclude, moves in mysterious and
Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.