12 conventions over 48 years: Joe Biden's history with the Democratic National Convention

Biden will accept the Democratic nomination over 30 years after his first run.

August 20, 2020, 5:09 AM

When former Vice President Joe Biden accepts the Democratic nomination on Thursday night, it will be a culminating moment more than three decades in the making, and will mark the 12th time in nearly half a century that he will attend the Democratic National Convention -- albeit in a much different format than in previous years.

Elected to the Senate at age 29, few people in politics today have had as long a career as Biden. Now at age 77, if he wins the presidency in November, he will become the oldest person elected as president of the United States.

According to a search of online newspaper archives, C-SPAN online video archives and biographies about his life, Biden's history with the quadrennial gathering is as long as his own political career.

Back in 1972, he attended the Democratic National Convention in Miami in an unofficial capacity during his first run for the Senate, according to an article from the Wilmington Morning News. He took on a more prominent role at the gathering in New York in 1976 as a freshman Senator, serving as one of 14 floor managers for then-candidate Jimmy Carter and appearing as a surrogate for the campaign in television appearances.

PHOTO: Joe Biden speaks during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, March 8, 2004.
Joe Biden speaks during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, March 8, 2004.
Douglas Graham/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images, FILE

"I have to help fill up three to four hours of tube time," Biden told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Carter advisors, who informed him of his duty to chat with Walter Cronkite during the event, according to a July 12 Wilmington News Journal article.

Biden's prominence continued to grow in 1980, when he spoke at the opening night of the gathering, giving a speech that was only partially carried by one network, but received a warm reception from delegates from his home state of Delaware, who hoisted a banner calling for "Biden in '84." But Biden ruled out the possibility of running in the next election the next day.

"I don't want to run for president in 1984. I've got an awful lot to learn," Biden said, according to a Wilmington Morning News article. Despite ruling out the run, Biden was confident about his chances for the presidency, adding, "If I wanted it, I think I could take it."

As promised, Biden did not seek the nomination in 1984, but attended the gathering in San Francisco without an official role. Still, rumors about Biden's presidential ambitions persisted when Maine delegate Keron Kerr cast her presidential vote for Biden after he "stole her heart" speaking at a Maine event.

"Joe was my first choice. I really think he's a future presidential candidate," Kerr told Wilmington News Journal that year.

At the '84 convention, Biden lacked enthusiasm for Walter Mondale as the Democratic nominee.

"Biden did not want to endorse Mondale because he said he was not sure that the former vice president could be an effective enough transitional figure from the old-line to the new-line Democratic Party," reported the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. "However, Mondale's choice of Geraldine A. Ferraro as his running mate goes a long way towards making that transition easier, Biden said."

After much anticipation, Biden made his first attempt for the presidency during the 1988 election -- an ill-fated and short-lived endeavor that ended three months after it began due to a plagiarism scandal. That year was also the only year Biden did not attend the convention in his political career, missing the event as he recovered from brain surgeries following two aneurysms he suffered after ending his campaign.

The 2000 convention also brought further speculation about a second run for the White House, something that Biden did not dismiss out of hand, but refrained from embarking on in the next election cycle.

Instead, Biden spoke on the final night of the 2004 convention to endorse his friend, then-Sen. John Kerry for president, using familiar sentiments still heard in his stump speeches 16 years later, discussing the power of America's example rather than the example of the country's power, and quoting an Irish poet at the top of his remarks.

The next time Biden appeared at the Democratic gathering, it was to accept the vice presidential nomination, tapped to join the ticket with then-Sen. Barack Obama after a second, lackluster run for president saw Biden end his campaign following the Iowa caucus in 2008.

As Obama's vice president, Biden spoke during the gatherings in 2012 and again in 2016, after he made a last-minute decision to not seek the presidency that year, following the death of his son, Beau Biden in 2015, who introduced him at the 2008 gathering, when he accepted his vice presidential nomination.

PHOTO: Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, left, stands on the stage with his father Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden during day three of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Aug. 27, 2008 in Denver.
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, left, stands on the stage with his father Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden during day three of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Aug. 27, 2008 in Denver.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Now, in his third attempt at the presidency, Biden will attend his 12th Democratic National Convention, inadvertently taking place in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, after the coronavirus pandemic upended months of planning by the party and forced the gathering to move to a mostly virtual format.

The unprecedented event has gotten underway without the balloon drops, floor flights or hours of speeches associated with the 11 gatherings Biden previously took part in. Instead, a two-hour primetime event each night features trimmed speeches and a mix of live and pre-produced content.

"It is not the normal convention, it's the complete opposite of it. It's very concise, and it's abbreviated speaking roles," Biden campaign co-chair Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., told ABC News during a press briefing Monday.

Regardless of the form, Biden's 12th gathering will still hold a first for him: the first time he will accept the Democratic Party's nomination for president of the United States.

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