Joe Biden's incomparable presidential odyssey

biden 1988
(Image credit: Photo by JEROME DELAY/AFP via Getty Images)

When Joe Biden accepts the Democratic Party's presidential nomination tonight, it will mark a major milestone in a journey he's been on for more than three decades.

Biden first sought his party's nomination for the 1988 race, but his candidacy didn't even survive into the election year: He withdrew in September 1987 after reports he had plagiarized portions of a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock. (He ended up having surgery for a brain aneurism in early 1988 and wouldn't have been able to run, anyway.) Biden returned to the Senate for two more decades before taking a second shot at the presidency in 2008 — but that was the year Barack Obama narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton for the nomination. Biden washed out early again, quitting after he received less than 1 percent of the vote in that year's Iowa caucuses.

That's where the story probably would have ended, if Obama hadn't selected Biden as his vice president.

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It is difficult to think of another figure in American history who pursued the presidency for so long. William Jennings Bryan and Henry Clay both ran and lost three times apiece. Adlai Stevenson was the Democratic Party's nominee in 1952 and 1956 — both times falling short — and might've won the nomination in 1960, too, if not for the emergence of John F. Kennedy. Then-Vice President Richard Nixon lost to Kennedy that year only to run again and win eight years later. Ronald Reagan whiffed twice, in 1968 and 1976, before winning the GOP nomination and the presidency in 1980. Those extended efforts were all relatively short, though, in comparison to Biden's. (We'd be remiss if we didn't note that comedian Pat Paulsen ran satirically in six elections between 1968 and 1992, picking up a few votes along the way.)

It is expected that one-in-10 voters this year are between the ages of 18 and 23 — Biden's pursuit of the presidency is older than much of the electorate. His nomination tonight might be evidence that Baby Boomers have hung on to power for too long. Or it just might prove the power of persistence.

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