The Ultimate Recovery: Cycles of pain anchor Biden's moment

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., pass each other as Harris moves tot the podium. To speak during a campaign event at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON – A young lawyer bounds across a parking lot in New Castle, Delaware, a blur of long sideburns, wide lapels and self-assurance. He throws open a door to a beauty salon, and the ladies inside whoop with surprise. It’s clear from the grainy footage that the stylists don’t know this 29-year-old candidate – yet.

“I’m Joe Biden, Democratic candidate for United States Senate,” he announces, shaking the hand of a grinning beautician. “Maybe if you get a chance, you’ll look me over between now and November.”

The pitch, captured in an October 1972 broadcast by WPVI in Philadelphia, is one Biden has made repeatedly since, winning seven terms in the Senate and two as vice president. But throughout his lifetime in politics, his eye has been on the next rung — the presidency -- in a quest that failed spectacularly in his first two tries.

On this, his third attempt, the White House is within Biden's reach at what in some ways seems an improbable moment. At age 77, he is too old to even be called a Baby Boomer at a time when Democrats are prioritizing youth and diversity. But he's vowing to reset the nation's compass after four turbulent years under President Donald Trump, staking his claim on the pillars of competence, experience and empathy.

“The moment has met him, right now,” says former Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “People know he’s been there, and he’s not going to just stand there. He’s going to do something to make it better. We need that desperately right now. People are scared.”

So Biden is hoping voters will choose him over Trump, like a comfortable blanket, bonded to people by that empathy — and his own history of grief.

“In another time, it might be too late for Joe,” said former defense secretary Bill Cohen, who served as a Republican senator from Maine. “When you see what is happening in our lives, the chaos, they’re looking for someone who can bring some sort of equanimity.”

Biden’s moment accepting the Democratic nomination will be nothing like he imagined when his campaign began. There won’t be thousands of supporters in an arena cheering while he holds Kamala Harris' hand aloft. With the pandemic’s U.S. death toll nearing 170,000, the event is expected to be a far more somber and smaller affair.