By Michael Cass, The Tennessean
When Joe Biden started running for a Senate seat in 1972, few people thought the young man from Delaware had a chance.
But a well-placed Tennessee couple tagged him early as an up-and-comer.
was 29 years old, running for the United States Senate against a guy
with an 81 percent favorable rating, a year where Richard Nixon won my
state by over 65 percent of the vote, and I was an Irish Catholic in a
state that (had) never elected one," Biden told Tennessee Democrats in a
speech two years ago, recounting a story that got scant media attention
at the time.
Biden pulled off a stunning, 3,162-vote upset with a
mix of youthful vigor, skillful campaigning, energized volunteers and
smart advertising - fueled by tens of thousands of dollars that a
prominent Tennessee couple raised for his campaign.
Biden, who will accept the Democratic Party's
vice presidential nomination for the second time tonight in Charlotte,
N.C., was a county councilman in Delaware when he decided to take on J.
Caleb Boggs, a two-term Republican senator and former congressman and
governor. His candidacy caught the eye of former Tennessee Sen. Albert
Gore Sr., who was working with a Washington, D.C.-based arms control
group called the Council for a Livable World, and his wife, Pauline.
the numbers look quaint by today's seven- and eight-figure standards
for Senate campaigns, the Gores raised a substantial $89,000, Biden said at the Tennessee Democratic Party's Jackson Day dinner in 2010. That was nearly one-third of the $287,000 he brought in overall.
Support was critical
Ted Kaufman, who volunteered for Biden's campaign, said the Gores'
support was critical. Kaufman later served as Biden's chief of staff for
19 years and briefly succeeded him in the Senate in 2009 and 2010,
after President Barack Obama took office with Biden as his deputy.
the incumbent senator 40 years ago, was "one of the most popular and
beloved figures in Delaware history," Kaufman said in a phone interview.
No one on the national political scene thought Biden, who "was 29 years
old and looked 29 years old," had a chance until Albert Gore Sr., who
had lost a re-election bid in 1970, sent out a letter to the Council for
a Livable World's supporters, urging them to "take a hard look at the
Delaware race," Kaufman recalled.
"It gave (Biden) credibility in Washington," he said. "It also attracted people to come and help on the race."
"thought he could win. Clearly he endorsed Biden's views, but the key
thing that came out of it was telling people he had a chance to win.
That was what made it so special."
On June 21, 1971, The Nashville
Banner reported that Gore, six months removed from the Senate, would
become the Washington chairman of the Council for a Livable World, which
advocates for decreasing the threat of nuclear weapons. Founded in
1962, the council also works to help like-minded candidates win Senate
and House seats.
Gore "expects to spend much time in the next 18
months traveling across the country in behalf of 1972 Senate candidates
for which the council is raising campaign money," the Banner reported in
a short story.
Nashville civil rights attorney George Barrett,
who practiced law with both Albert and Pauline Gore in the early 1970s,
said the couple saw in Biden "a progressive, bright, hard-working young
"Albert was very perceptive politically, and Pauline even more so," Barrett said.
U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser, a Tennessee Democrat who joined Biden in the
Senate in 1976, said Albert Gore saw a familiar spark in the Delaware
"Sen. Gore developed a real attachment to Biden,
because he said Biden reminded him very much of himself when he was a
young man trying to get started in electoral politics and coming up
through the ranks," Sasser said from Washington. "He said Biden was very
self-assured, a little brash."
The Obama campaign said Biden was
unavailable for an interview. But he spent almost three minutes talking
about the impact of the Gores, who are both deceased, during his 2010
speech in Nashville. He called himself "a product of Al Gore Sr."
the deal: I was desperately trying to raise money," the vice president
said. "I got a call from a woman named Pauline Gore. Would I come down
to Washington and meet with (her) and Senator Gore and some ... concerned
scientists who wanted to talk about the spread of nuclear weapons? It
was an outfit called the Council for a Livable World.
"So I showed
up in Sen. Gore's apartment in the Methodist House, which was
catercorner from the Supreme Court. That's when I first met young Al
Gore. I sat there, and it basically was an interview. I didn't realize
it. Sen. Gore, who had left the Senate two years earlier, said, 'I'm
going to help you.' "
Sasser said the money the Gores raised for Biden typically came
through "small contributions, $100, $200, just from people concerned
about the nuclear arms race back in those days and trying to do
something about it."
In the Banner story that announced his plans
to work with the Council for a Livable World, Gore was quoted as saying:
"Senators ought not to be elected with the support of a few large
contributors and special interest groups but with the help of a broadly
based citizenry of moderate means."
When Labor Day 1972 arrived,
Biden looked like as much of a long shot as ever. Polls showed his
support flagging at about 19 percent, Kaufman said.
But Biden was
already "a world-class retail candidate," Kaufman recalled, and he ran
on "a new Democratic platform - environment, tough on crime, balanced
budgets, tax reform."
A Washington Post story in 2007 about
Biden's long-serving inner circle, including Kaufman, said the candidate
"spent all day meeting voters" in 1972 and left "virtually everything
else" to his sister, Valerie, who ran his campaign.
When the votes
were counted that November, Biden had sent Boggs home from Washington,
just as Republican Bill Brock had done to Gore two years earlier. In the
coming weeks, Biden would turn 30, making him old enough to serve in
the Senate; lose his wife and 1-year-old daughter in a car crash, a
tragedy that almost caused him to give up the seat he had just won; and
be sworn in at the hospital bedside of his two young sons, who were
critically injured in the accident.
'Our great coup'
John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World,
was not yet with the organization 40 years ago. But he said finding and
getting behind Biden "was one of our great coups." Biden has always
remembered the group's support, Isaacs said, and its website includes a
video of the vice president talking about the council's help.
you support a politician in his first race, especially an unknown local
candidate like Joe Biden, they remember it forever," Isaacs said.
the Jackson Day dinner in 2010, Biden made it clear that his fond
memories of his first Senate campaign don't stop with the council.
if you want to blame anybody for my being a United States senator
elected seven times and a vice president," he said, "it's all the fault
of former Sen. Gore."