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How Joe Biden Works

Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden is running for president of the United States. Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

During a campaign stop at a supporter's home in Claremont, New Hampshire, in the 1988 Democratic presidential primary race, Sen. Joe Biden lost his temper. A small group of people were assembled for the informal, structured publicity appearance. C-SPAN was on hand to record the event. Among the group was a man named Frank. It was Frank who asked Biden, by then halfway through serving his third consecutive term as senator, about his academic record.

Biden had been a lackluster student in college. His first year at the University of Delaware yielded him a grade-point average of 1.9 [source: Brozyna]. When he graduated and entered law school, his performance was much the same, ranking 76th out of a class of 85 students. Still, Biden was convinced his poor academic showing was due to a lack of interest, not intellect. He later wrote in his memoir, "Promises to Keep" (published in 2007), "The work didn't seem so hard, just boring; and I was a dangerous combination of arrogant and sloppy."

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How to get this across to Frank? "I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect," he shot back, irritated [source: Bates]. Biden went on to mention he'd graduated in the top half of his law school class — a false statement.

This was typical Joe Biden. The former six-term senator from Delaware is known for his bluster. He admits that he has a quick temper and, "I exaggerate when I'm angry" [source: Dionne]. He has found absolution for his missteps from his largely white and African American working class constituency in his home state. "We forgive him every once in a while when he says something dumb — 'Oh, that's just Joe,'" explained James M. Baker, the former mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, Biden's hometown [source: Broder].

But as Biden campaigns to defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, will he be able to build a nationwide consensus that he has what it takes to lead the nation, verbal gaffes and all? Biden's strength is to campaign on his 36-year record as a Democratic senator, his eight years working alongside President Barack Obama, and his plans to reverse the policies of the Trump administration on climate change, immigration, gun control and other hot-button issues.

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