Challenges never brought Biden down

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  • Joe Biden has been through tough times–the death of his wife and daughter, two brain aneurysms, and a stutter.
  • A childhood friend recalls a reckless kid who always got back on his feet.
  • The six-term senator is a straight-talking family man, according to a Marquette professor who knew him growing up.
  • A University of Delaware political science professor said if the Democratic ticket wins, Biden might struggle to stand by as vice president.

Joe Biden has overcome the death of his wife and daughter, two brain aneurysms and a speech impediment.

So when childhood friend James Kennedy uses "resilient" to describe the Delaware senator and vice presidential hopeful, it doesn't come as a surprise.

Kennedy and Biden both hail from Scranton, Pa. As childhood pals, he remembers Biden as the kid who never turned down a challenge, and often had the scars to prove his bravery.

"You couldn't dare him to do anything, because the problem was he'd do it,"said Kennedy, now a magisterial district judge in Pennsylvania. "His DNA is still up in that alley, because I never saw anybody bleed as much as him."

Every day after school, he and Biden would play baseball and football. Whether Biden was playing sports or being made fun of for his stutter, Biden showed his resilience from a young age, Kennedy said.

"If you'd knock him down, he'd get up again," Kennedy said.

He also attributes himself being a public official to Biden.

"He influenced me to run for public office. No question about it," Kennedy said.

Biden lived in Scranton until he was 10. His family moved to Delaware, where he graduated from Archmere Academy and the University of Delaware. As an adult, Biden served on the New Castle County Council in 1970. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, a post he still holds.

Shortly after being elected senator, his wife Neilia and one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in a car accident. Biden's sons, Beau and Hunter, survived.

In 1988, Biden underwent emergency surgery to fix two brain aneurysms, from which he recovered in seven months.

John Curran, associate professor of English at Marquette, grew up in Wilmington, Del., with Biden's sons. Curran attended Wilmington Friends School with

Beau and Hunter, who were one and two years behind him, respectively.

Curran said he played football with Hunter, winning the state championship Curran's junior year. Biden attended their games, cheered along, and didn't let his political duties detract from his family.

Every day, Biden commuted 90 minutes each way from his home to the Capitol.

"He was a very involved, supportive parent," Curran said. "As involved as any other father."

"The whole family man bit-that's real."

Curran remembers the eighth grade field trip his class took to Washington, D.C., where they saw Biden in action.

Biden and the class were walking through the halls of the Capitol, when Biden saw Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Biden called him over, introduced the senator to the class, and the two senators chatted with the class for a bit.

"Biden always had a way of making you feel valued," Curran said.

Biden was often around the school, attending sporting events and sometimes giving speeches to the students.

He was always good at getting along with people no matter what, Curran said.

"I always got the impression, from my experience, that Biden was good at being colleagues with someone who he didn't share ideologies," he said.

The easygoing, informal persona Biden has on television is a reflection of how he is in person, Curran said.

"With (Biden), what you see is what you get," Curran said.

Joseph Pika, a political science professor at the University of Delaware, said he has paid particular attention to Biden this election.

If the Obama-Biden ticket proves victorious, Pika predicts Biden will have a tough time fading into the background.

"One of the hardest things for Joe Biden, should they win, will be to stand silently by the president," he said. "Vice presidents are seen but not heard. Verbal problems are probably controllable. He'll stay on message. (But) I think playing second fiddle is going to be tough for him."

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