Secret weapon: Why Jill Biden is such an effective campaigner for her husband Joe

Jill Biden’s decision to maintain independent professional life provides real-world perspective

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 03 February 2020 15:52 GMT
Joe Biden's 'secret weapon' Jill out on the campaign trail for her husband

She says she knows the candidate better than anyone else. He likes to say he “married up”.

Jill and Joe Biden have been married for 43 years, and during his time as both a senator and vice president, she continued to work, most recently as a professor of English at a community college. It provided a real-world, outside of the White House bubble perspective, people say was invaluable.

So when the 77-year-old Mr Biden called a raft of ex-senators, members of the House, and others, to head to both Iowa and New Hampshire to campaign for him and act as “surrogates”, nobody’s dispatch was important than that of his wife.

She has acted as an energetic, morale-boosting visitor to remote campaign offices, far from the state capitals. And because of who she is, she has said things about him and his campaign, other surrogates might not feel so free to express.

Last year in New Hampshire, she told told supporters of others candidates, to “swallow a little bit” and vote for her husband, because he had a better chance of defeating Donald Trump.

“Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, health care, than Joe is, but you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election.”

Ms Biden, 68, last year published her own memoir, Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself, that told of the pain they had to fight through following death of their son, Beau. His passing away in 2015 after developing a brain rumour, was perhaps the key reason Mr Biden stood out the 2016 race.

In the last few days, as Iowa prepares to become the first state in the nation to vote, Ms Biden has been racing across the state, much like her husband, trying to ensure the decision they took as family does not hang over them forever.

In the city of Davenport in eastern Iowa, having spoken to staff and volunteers at the campaign office, she went door knocking on doors in the community of Bettendorf. She did not spend that long – how much it was something to be used on social media and how much it was to actually win over voters – was unclear.

Joe Biden says 'Beau should be the one running for president'

Yet, as she approached the houses with Texas congressman, Filemon Vela Jr, she got at least at least one person to say they would vote for her husband.

At a house with a sign for Pete Buttigieg pressed into the snow-covered ground, she laughed at the suggestion she was going to pull it out.

“Better just knock – might need them in the second go-around,” said Mr Vela Jr, as they left a leaflet, hoping that even if the person did not support Mr Biden in the caucus, or primary, they would turn out to vote in the general election if he is candidate.

Asked why she was putting herself through the prospect of going back to government, Ms Biden said the country needed “new leadership”.

“I have heard this all over Iowa and New Hampshire,” she said. “We need someone we can respect – a leader.”

She said she could highlight to people better than anyone her husband’s strengths and “why he would be the best president”.

Ms Biden is not the only campaign spouse being used in Iowa to remind voters, that even candidates seeking the highest office in the land, are also human.

On Saturday night in Cedar Rapids, Bernie Sanders saved his last words of thanks for his wife, Jane. Meanwhile, Mr Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten Glezman, has hosted fundraising events. On Friday night in Davenport, Mr Buttigieg’s husband, was at the back of the crowd as the former Indiana mayor spoke at St. Ambrose university.

“People are positive,” Ms Biden said of people reaction to her campaigning. “They say they’re going to vote for my husband because we need a change.”

Always on message, she said: “A lot of people people here in Iowa are struggling with food issues…They want a leader who will change things. But they also want a president they can respect.”

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