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Joe Biden's presidential nomination follows 50 years in politics

By
Don Jacobson
A young Sen. Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, is seen in this undated photo at a press conference in Washington, D.C. His political career began in 1970, when he was elected to the New Castle County Council in Delaware at age 26. UPI File Photo | License Photo

Aug. 20 (UPI) -- When former Vice President Joe Biden accepts the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday night, it will mark the highest point in a political career that began in 1970 with election to a Delaware county council.

Biden, two years after graduating from law school and moving to Wilmington, Del., won a seat on the New Castle County Council at age 26. That year also marked the birth of his second child, Hunter Biden. His first son, Beau, was born a year earlier, and his daughter, Naomi, was born in 1971.

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The next year, 1972, marked Biden's first major political victory -- but also the first of several deep personal tragedies.

Running a shoestring campaign with the help of family members, including his sister and parents, the 29-year-old Biden staged a stunning upset against Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs for the U.S. Senate, becoming the fifth-youngest person ever elected to the body.

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The joy of that surprise victory, however, was shattered just weeks later when his wife, Neilia, and daughter Naomi were killed in a car accident. Sons Beau and Hunter were severely injured in the crash, which happened as the family was out shopping for a Christmas tree.

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Biden says he considered suicide at that moment.

"I thought about it, not doing it," he told CNN for a documentary. "I thought about what it would be like just to go to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and just jump off and end it all. But I didn't ever get in the car and do it or wasn't ever even close.

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"I don't drink at all. I've never had a drink in my life, but I remember taking out a fifth of, I think it was gin, and put it on the kitchen table. But I couldn't even make myself take a drink. What saved me was really my boys."

Encouraged by supporters to serve out his term, Biden recovered emotionally and began a distinguished Senate career that ran from 1973 to 2009.

His chief area of expertise was foreign policy. He served as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations for several years, taking lead positions on issues such as forging arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and seeking to end the conflict in the Balkans.

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As one of the leading Democratic foreign policy voices in the Senate, he opposed the Persian Gulf War launched in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush.

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Like then-fellow U.S. Sen. -- and later Democratic presidential nominee -- Hillary Clinton, Biden initially supported the 2002 invasion of Iraq by President George W. Bush. He later criticized the younger Bush's handling of the conflict, particularly opposing the troop surge of 2007.

Biden first showed presidential ambitions in 1987, but dropped out of the primaries the next year after being diagnosed with life-threatening brain aneurysms. He underwent complicated brain and lung surgeries to correct the problems.

He ran for president again in 2007 but failed to generate much enthusiasm in a field dominated by Clinton and a surprising newcomer -- first-term Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

When Obama claimed the nomination, he tapped Biden as his running mate, helping the Black nominee widen his appeal to White blue-collar voters in key swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The Obama-Biden team went on to win two presidential elections, defeating the tickets of Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008 and Sens. Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan four years later.

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In eight years as vice president, Biden again frequently drew on his foreign policy experience, serving as an adviser to Obama on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also served as a liaison between the White House and the Republican-controlled Senate in their second term.

In his personal life, Biden married his second wife, Jill, in 1977. The couple had a daughter, Ashley, four years later.

In 2015, tragedy struck again when his eldest son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer at age 46.

Beau Biden, who served as Delaware attorney general from 2007-15, was seen by many as the vice president's political heir -- he was preparing a run for governor with possible ambitions for higher office when he died.

In his memoir of Beau's fight with cancer, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose, Joe Biden wrote, "Beau Biden, at age 45, was Joe Biden 2.0. He had all the best of me, but with the bugs and flaws engineered out."

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