How Joe Biden Works

Political Career of Joe Biden

Joe Biden campaign 1988
Sen. Joseph R. Biden campaigns at an adult education center after announcing his bid for 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. Steve Liss/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

Joe Biden began his political career at the age of 27. He won a seat on the New Castle County, Delaware, council in 1970. He served on the council for two years before making the leap to the U.S. Senate. At the age of 29, Biden unseated Sen. James Caleb Boggs (Rep.), the two-term incumbent, in an upset victory [source: Biography]. Two weeks after winning the seat, Biden's family was involved in the auto accident that took his wife and daughter's life. He was sworn in at his sons' hospital room as the fifth-youngest senator in history. This would be the beginning of a 36-year career as a senator representing Delaware.

Biden commuted to Washington and home to Delaware each night by train to look after his two sons. The train ride was a habit he continued throughout his career as a senator, and it earned him a reputation as a Washington insider who lived outside of Washington, an outsider inside the Beltway [source: Cillizza].


Biden made his first run for the White House during the 1988 campaign. He ran on the promise that he would "rekindle the fire of idealism in our society," as he put it [source: Witt]. His chances looked good until The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd accused Biden of plagiarizing speeches from British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. Biden "became Kinnock" during one speech, lifting not only Kinnock's words, but part of his life story as well [source: Shafer]. At an Iowa debate in August 1987, Biden used parts of a Kinnock speech that referenced being first in his family to attend college. The reference was true for Kinnock, but not for Biden.

Campaign managers for Biden later defended him, pointing out that Biden had used parts of Kinnock's speeches with proper attribution throughout the campaign. But the Iowa speech and an investigation that revealed he'd plagiarized one-third of a paper he wrote in law school led to the sinking of his candidacy. Amid public outcry, Biden dropped out three months into the 1988 race.

Despite the controversy, he managed to keep his senate seat. Back in Washington, and following his two aneurysms, Biden became one of the Senate's most active members [source: Brozyna]. He became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1975, and following his dropout from the 1988 race, he also joined the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving as chair from 1987 to 1995 [source:].

Biden's long tenure in Washington and membership on those prized committees gave him both remarkable power and opened him up to criticism. As chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, he gained foreign policy experience meeting with heads of state. As chair of the Judiciary Committee, he passionately opposed the confirmations of Supreme Court justices Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. In the end, Biden was able to sway moderate Republicans to block the Bork nomination, a victory on the heels of Biden's failed presidential run [source: Keith].

In 2007, Biden made a second run for the White House. He dropped out after coming in fifth in the Iowa Caucus.

Due to his interest in foreign policy and chairmanship on the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is considered one of the United States' foremost authorities on foreign policy, but that's just one key issue that's important to Biden.