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Election 2008

Biden Strong On Foreign Policy, National Security

NPR's Ari Shapiro examines Joe Biden’s transition from a young man with a stutter to a powerful politician on 'All Things Considered'

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Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 9. Biden has served several terms as chairman of the committee. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 9. Biden has served several terms as chairman of the committee.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Election 2008

Joe Biden bio box

Through four decades in the U.S. Senate, Joseph Biden, 65, has honed a reputation as a heavyweight on foreign policy and national security and a strong debater, if one sometimes prone to verbal gaffes.

Biden was born in Scranton, Pa., to a working-class family — his father was a car salesman — and was raised in the suburbs of Wilmington, Del. He attended Syracuse Law School.

In 1972, at age 29, he became one of the youngest people elected to the Senate. A month later, he faced personal tragedy when his wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident, leaving Biden a single father of two young sons. Biden remarried five years later.

Biden is unarguably a Washington insider, yet he's never actually moved to the city, instead commuting home to Delaware by train every night. He is Roman Catholic, yet favors abortion rights.

Biden has twice run for president himself, first in 1988, when he dropped out after being accused of plagiarizing British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. Soon after he suffered an aneurysm, but he fully recovered.

Early in his 2007 bid for the presidency, Biden found himself apologizing to rival Barack Obama after a remark some found racially insensitive. He had called Obama "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." During the primaries, Biden also claimed Obama was "not yet ready" to serve as president, a line that will no doubt be rehashed now by Republican rivals. Biden never went far with his candidacy, coming in fifth in Iowa.

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Biden's legislative career is long and varied. He helped write landmark legislation that set up shelters and a national hotline for abused women, and another law that put 100,000 police on the streets in the mid-1990s. He served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995, leading opposition to the controversial Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Biden has served several terms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he heads now, and has substantial contacts with world leaders. Just last weekend, he accepted an invitation from Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili to visit the former Soviet republic during its tense standoff with Russia. Biden originally voted for the Iraq war but has since come to be a fierce critic of President Bush's policies in Iraq.

Biden complements a Democratic ticket in areas that polls show Obama is weak — he has gravitas, foreign policy experience, knowledge of the inner workings of Washington, and an appeal to working-class voters. While he has clearly harbored presidential ambitions, Biden would presumably be too old to run again if Obama were elected and served two terms.

Where Obama is nuanced, Biden may also have a greater ability to talk tough against rivals in public debate. But the senator is also known to get carried away with the sound of his own voice, digressing into irrelevant personal anecdotes. Referring to this during the recent series of Democratic debates, moderator Brian Williams asked Biden if he had the "discipline" to be president, to which Biden delivered perhaps the best-received line of his candidacy: "Yes."

Biden is up for re-election to his Senate seat this year but could run for this spot while also campaigning on the Democratic ticket.

Correction Oct. 1, 2008

Earlier versions of this story said that a drunk driver was responsible for the deaths of Sen. Biden's wife and daughter. There is no evidence that the driver was drunk.