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They Don't Know Joe: The Secret of Biden's Success in Delaware

By       Message Harris McDowell     Permalink
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The pundits and politicians who don't know Joe Biden have him all figured out: He's brash. Outspoken. A gaffe machine. So they say.


People in Biden's home state of Delaware tell a different story: And it begins and ends with how we elect our leaders.

Delaware is so small that high-priced consultants and big media buys are not really that effective in elections. You just can't win without knocking on a lot of doors. And when you do, you'd better be real.

That is how Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972.

No one gave him a chance. He was 29. His opponent was the most popular and powerful politician in the state: three-term incumbent Republican Senator Caleb Boggs.

Biden, his wife, and a whole flock of brothers, sisters and family members hit the streets. I met Biden for the first time when he knocked on my door.

When Biden talks about people sitting at their kitchen tables, he is not being metaphorical. He's has been to tens of thousands of kitchen tables and living rooms. And that is no place for talking points and press releases and clever answers that might satisfy a sound bite. When people ask a question, you'd better answer it simply and directly or you simply will not last as an elected official in this state.

After meeting Biden, I was not really sure he had much of a chance to win, but like thousands of other folks in Delaware, I liked him enough to help out by knocking on a few doors myself.

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Biden's first Senate campaign drew record numbers of volunteers and people at his rallies. He was Obama before Obama.

That is how he won: With direct, plain talk that connected to people at their basic level. He was on the straight talk express long before McCain.

So when we hear that Biden said this or that and we are somehow supposed to be taken aback, we are not. We do not play 'gotcha' media games with people who have been to our homes.

Biden is not being outspoken. He is real. I'm one of those who think we need a lot more of that.

When Barack Obama chose Biden as his running mate, we in Delaware were proud. But not surprised. Whether having coffee at your kitchen table or talking to thousands of folks off the cuff, we've seen first hand how good he is at reaching, inspiring and motivating people.

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He inspired me to run for office. And four years after I met Biden I was elected to my first term in the Delaware State Senate, where I serve to this day.

We in Delaware are amazed at Biden's experience in foreign affairs. Mostly because we don't understand how he has time to return our phone calls and take care of state business when he running around the world putting out fires in Georgia and China and Bosnia. But we do understand how his colleagues could count on him for the most demanding of topics.

He still loves to knock on doors -- and has done that with me in every one of my ten elections to the State Senate. People come up to me all the time and remind me that Biden and I had been to their house. Some as long as 30 years ago.

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Harris McDowell was elected to the Delaware State Senate in 1976 where he has served ever since. He is currently chair of the Senate Energy Committee.

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They Don't Know Joe: The Secret of Biden's Success in Delaware