By Ernest Luning (August 21, 2020)
Few figures loom over the events at this year’s Democratic National Convention — and the race for the White House that’s about to hit high gear — as much as Beau Biden, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s late son, who died of an aggressive form of brain cancer five years ago at age 46.
His father, the former vice president, has said his 2020 run has been inspired by a desire to fulfill his son’s promise, to make him proud.
Joe Biden’s choice of a running mate, too, owes plenty to Beau Biden, who was serving his second term as Delaware’s attorney general when he died. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general, was close friends with the younger Biden, and the strength of that relationship played a key role in the elder Biden inviting her to join the ticket.
Just days after nominating his father for a second term as vice president at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Beau Biden flew to the pivotal swing state of Colorado to speak at the Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner, thrown by the Democratic Party in Jefferson County, considered one of the premier battleground counties in the country that year.
At the time, Beau was already attracting attention as a potential presidential candidate. If there was going to be a President Biden, local Democrats buzzed, there was a good chance it would be the young man speaking that night at their annual fundraiser.
“He was really kind and open and enthusiastic to meet people. You could see his father in him that way,” state Rep. Chris Kennedy, the Jeffco Democrats’ chair in 2012, recalled this week, adding that it had been a coup to land a speaker on such a trajectory.
“He knocked people’s socks off. People really liked what he had to say. A lot of people, including people who’ve been to a hundred of these dinners, just loved it. He left a huge impression — he was definitely a rising star.”
Joe Biden, it turns out, had similar thoughts.
In his 2017 memoir recounting the year his son died, “Promise Me, Dad,” Joe Biden wrote, “Beau Biden, at age forty-five, was Joe Biden 2.0. He had all the best of me, but with the bugs and flaws engineered out. I was pretty sure Beau could run for president some day and, with his brother’s help, he could win.”
Earlier this year, before a come-from-behind win in the South Carolina primary stemmed a series of losses in early contests and propelled him to the nomination, Biden told “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough that his son’s memory weighed on his moves.
“Beau should be the one running for president, not me,” Biden said. “Every morning I get up, Joe, not a joke, and I think to myself, ‘Is he proud of me?'”
Biden’s first wife, Neila, and their daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident that severely injured brothers Beau and Hunter in 1972, soon after he was first elected to the Senate from Delaware.
Before he was elected attorney general, Beau Biden worked as a federal prosecutor. He served more than a decade in the Delaware Army National Guard and deployed with his unit to Iraq in 2008 and 2009.
Beau Biden’s speech at the 2012 DNC fell on the final night of the convention in Charlotte, before his father and President Barack Obama would bring down the house accepting the nominations inside the packed Time Warner Cable Arena.
“For me, the most memorable moment of the past four years was not something most Americans saw,” Beau Biden said at the DNC. “It wasn’t even on American soil. It took place in Iraq, at Camp Victory, where I was stationed. It was the Fourth of July in 2009. My father was there on an unannounced visit to salute our troops. I watched as he led a naturalization ceremony in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces for a couple hundred men and women from all branches of our military.
“As he led those new Americans through the oath of citizenship, this celebration of democracy in the land of a deposed dictator, I was struck by the strength and diversity of our country. I was reminded why we as a nation are stronger when everybody has a chance to do their part.”
About an hour before Beau Biden spoke, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon who died last month, took the stage, followed by a young Denver attorney and Army Ranger veteran named Jason Crow, who was elected to Congress in 2018 and is seeking a second term this year.
The day before, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette helped kick off the proceedings with a tribute to the women serving with her in Congress, and a few hours later then-Gov. John Hickenlooper talked about Colorado’s recovery from the Great Recession. Soon after, California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris appeared on stage.
In Harris’ first public appearance after being designated Biden’s running mate earlier this month, she spoke about her bond with Beau.
“Ever since I received Joe’s call, I’ve been thinking about the first Biden I really came to know — Joe’s son, Beau,” she said. She recalled that she “spoke on the phone practically every day, sometimes multiple times a day” with Beau on efforts to resolve the foreclosure crisis.
Biden also referenced their friendship in a post about his vice presidential pick: “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”
At the Democrats’ fundraising dinner in Jefferson County eight years ago, Beau Biden built on comments he’d made a few days earlier in Charlotte, swinging hard at Republican nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and their budget proposals.
He also jabbed at a flub Ryan had recently made when the notorious fitness buff boasted he’d run a marathon in what would have been Olympic-qualifying time of under three hours.
“I believe his math. I don’t believe his marathon times,” Biden told the Jeffco Democrats, adding that he found it “remarkable” that Ryan had gotten so confused.
“He continues to revise it upward, he’s around four hours now. My mom ran a marathon in about four hours, a little over four hours — I think my mom could take him,” he said, referring to Jill Biden.
These days, Lakewood Democrat Brittany Pettersen, a state senator in her first term after serving three terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, is raising seven-month-old Davis, who was born at the start of the legislative session. But eight years ago, she was in the thick of her first run for office, for an open House seat considered among the most competitive in the state that year.
Recalling the county party dinner and a conversation she had with Biden, Pettersen said, “He was really serious. He took his commitment to his country and his service very seriously, what it means to serve in public office. But even though his speech was incredibly serious and everybody felt the weight of the election and what it meant, in person he was so warm.
“The chatter in the room was, ‘This is a future president.’ We felt so lucky to have him with us.”
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