Cited in past years as New Jersey’s third senator, Delaware diehard Joe Biden has a pretty significant political history in New Jersey, auspicious in at least one case, come-backing on two others, and disappointing at least twice. As the Garden State prepares to receive President Biden on Tuesday for government, not political, work – where he is scheduled to review storm damage in Manville, let’s look at some of his past forays into this state, including the other time he came in the wake of a natural disaster.
Veteran Democratic Party operative Barry Brendel still remembers the best political speech he ever heard.
Biden delivered it in Atlantic City on the eve of the 1984 primary season, on the invitation of the New Jersey Democratic Party.
In Sept. 1983 the young visiting U.S. Senator – chummy with Building Trades – said the Democratic Party “had failed to remember what got us this far and how we got here – moral indignation, decent instincts, a sense of shared sacrifice and mutual responsibility, and a set of national priorities that emphasized what we had in common. …The party that was the engine of the national interest – molding our pluralistic interest into a compelling new social contract that served the nation well for 50 years – became perceived as little more than the broker of narrow special interests. Instead of thinking o ourselves as Americans first, Democrats second, and members of interest groups third, we have begun to think in terms of special interests first and the great interest second. …We have let our opponents set the agenda and define what is at stake.”
Brendel – and others – wanted then-Senator Biden to get in the prez primary. Polling by Pat Caddell showed a beatable former Vice President Walter Mondale, and in the lead up to the 1984 primary season Brendel helped furnish a platform for Biden – at the annual Democratic State Convention – to make a national-sized statement and generate runway room for a campaign.
Biden more than delivered.
“I’ve never been as moved by a speech as I was by that speech by Biden,” Brendel said.
The U.S. Senator from Delaware looked like the perfect insurgent candidate to carry out the formulations of the Caddell memo. But then he suddenly announced that he wasn’t going to run.
“He didn’t think it was time,” Brendel said of the future vice president.
Instead it was Gary Hart who entered the contest, becoming the progressive wing of the party’s darling to undo the inevitability of Mondale.
Biden would run for president in 1988, 2008 and, of course, 2020.
His next significant New Jersey cameo occurred in June, 2009.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine looked grim heading into his reelection against former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, a Republican.
At the time, euphoria accompanied newly elected President Barack Obama, and Team Corzine did all they could to use the building blocks of Obama’s national campaign to transfer to their own gloomy statewide effort. The attempt to forge Corzine into Obama-Biden started when the President landed at the PNC Bank Center to deliver his plans to overhaul healthcare.
It was supposed to be a big deal for Corzine, who ended up humiliated when Bergen Record Charles Stile likened him to a servant, forced to hold Obama’s coat while the charismatic commander-in-chief addressed the crowd.
Having failed to ignite Corzine, Obama sent his VP for Corzine’s primary victory “party.”
Biden showed up in Essex County, presumably to take his best shot at galvanizing the base for New Jersey’s Democratic governor.
If Biden’s 1983 oratory equaled an upper deck performance, the sound of folding chairs lingered in the memory from 2009.
They didn’t have enough people there to fill the Codey Arena.
It was another embarrassment, and as Team Corzine frontend-loaded billboards of the governor with Obama accompanied by the slogan, “Keep it Going,” Biden came back to Jersey in the fall for an AFL-CIO event.
“Biden will win this in South Jersey, with hardhats,” was the attempted Corzine Campaign spin.
Ok, it wasn’t that bad.
“The thing that is most essential now is to have somebody who is in a position of power who understands the pain of the American people,” Biden said, “and who has a heart and says ‘I’m willing to risk my career to put parents in this state in the position to say [to their children] ‘Honey, its going to be alright.””
Delivered as a Labor GOTV rallying cry, it almost worked.
But Christie defeated Corzine, 48.5% to 44.9%, dealing a blow to the Obama-Biden political arm.
Then there was 2012 and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Biden arrived at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and traveled by helicopter tour of the coastline.
“Following the tour, which covered areas of Mantoloking and Bay Head, Biden met with about 50 first responders in Seaside Heights and received a briefing on damage caused by the storm,” according to NJ.com.
“Every time there’s been a drought or pestilence, a forest fire in Mississippi, we always step up and provide all the resources that are needed,” Biden said on his Hoboken leg of the journey. “Never can I remember an East Coast senator shying away from helping a drought and devastated farmland. We’re expecting the same. This is one United States.”
Biden came back again in 2017 to get behind another Goldman Sachs alum looking for a blue collar message from the Scranton, Pa.-scrappy Biden.
The bar was considerably lower this time. Once Murphy secured the backing of all 21 counties ahead of the Democratic Primary for Governor, he was pretty much a lock for the job. Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno was running in defense of her work in an administration where the chief executive had a 16% job approval rating. So it was over. But not before former Vice President Biden – already surfacing as a 2020 contender for the presidency – made a September appearance on behalf of Murphy in the general election in Edison. The talk at that point was less about Murphy versus Guadagno and more about then-departing Speaker Vincent Prieto versus then-incoming Speaker Craig Coughlin. (Biden made a Lyndhurst appearance, too, on behalf of Murphy).
By the time 2018 rolled around, it was easier for old football jock Biden to play offense rather than defense. Mikie Sherrill’s robust candidacy for Congress in a backlash election year found the former vice president resurfacing in New Jersey’s District 11, at Sherrill’s side for a September fundraiser. Sherrill would go on to handily defeat her Republican opponent at the head of a New Jersey rebuke of President Donald J. Trump. Of 12 congress people in the New Jersey delegation, only U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4) would survive the onslaught.