Early in 1973, not long after he was sworn in to the Senate seat he would hold for more than three decades, Joe Biden attended a dinner party in the upscale Washington suburb of McLean, Virginia. The event, thrown by Biden’s fellow freshman senator J. Bennett Johnston Jr., of Louisiana, offered the newcomers a chance to mingle with some of the Senate’s old guard.
Political analyst Charlie Cook, then a freshman at Georgetown University working as a congressional intern, remembers well both the evening and the presence of Biden, a 30-year-old unknown from Delaware. “A bunch of us kids had been wrangled into serving drinks and helping out in the kitchen,” he said. “All of us were floored by how young Biden was. He was more one of us than one of the senators! And sure enough, when the grown-ups retreated to the dining room, Biden drifted back to the kitchen to hang out with us 20-somethings … It was hard for us to believe that someone our age, give or take a few years, was already a United States senator.”
Elected when he was just 29, Biden was the youngest member of the upper chamber in modern times, and the sixth-youngest in American history. Inexperienced and unheralded, he’d nonetheless ousted a veteran incumbent, J. Caleb Boggs, who had enjoyed the full backing of President Richard Nixon and the national Republican Party. Biden arrived in Washington with the luster of unlimited promise. Back home they compared him to Kennedy, a parallel he would consciously exploit. He was a man for whom the White House seemed not merely a possibility, but a likelihood. In a notoriously revealing 1974 profile that Kitty Kelley wrote for The Washingtonian, Biden talked about becoming “a good senator” and “a good president.” Biden’s sister, Valerie, who had managed his surprise victory, told Kelley, “Joey is going to be president someday. He was made to be in the White House … Just you wait and see.”