On the Map: The Biden Factor
Senator Joe’s shot at the vice president’s office means that the rest of the country, at long last, knows that little Delaware is not a state in New England.
research assistance by Matt Amis, Maria Hess and Drew Ostroski
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Former CNN world affairs correspondent Ralph Begleiter chuckles when he recalls the scene.
Begleiter, a distinguished journalist in residence at the University of Delaware, had visited Switzerland the week before Labor Day to moderate a panel discussion as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 20th anniversary celebration.
“Whenever I tell people where I live, I almost always append that Delaware is a small state on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, halfway between the White House and the United Nations,” he says. “That time I asked, ‘You know where Delaware is now, right?’”
The hundreds of scientists and policy makers did indeed. One of its U.S. senators, our very own Joe Biden, had just been named a candidate for vice president of the United States of America.
To us here in Delaware, it may be the most significant event in government and politics since it became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Delaware may have produced other distinguished senators and three secretaries of state, but until August 23, it had never produced a nominee for an office as lofty as vice president.
It’s something we can all take pride in, regardless of your party affiliation, if for no other reason than this:
“Joe Biden has put Delaware on the map,” says U.S. Senator Tom Carper. “In politics, we are now the straw that stirs the drink, the tail that wags the dog.”
People across the country now know Delaware is not a city near Columbus, Ohio, Carper says. Or a state in New England, says WDEL’s Allan Loudell. Or, says beloved political guru Jim Soles, a county in New York or Pennsylvania.
“Now they know we’re a state like anyplace else,” says Gary Hindes, a former chair of the State Democratic Party and longtime friend of Biden. “A real state with a real economy and a really fine U.S. senator.”
If people elsewhere in the country have any idea about where or what Delaware is, they think of it as the home of large corporations, credit card companies and DuPont, Hindes says. Those same people may have an individual retirement account, a Roth IRA, named after our late U.S. Senator Bill Roth. Beyond that, they may know very little.
“The more I watched of the Democratic National Convention, the more I realized there are millions of people out there who don’t know where Delaware is,” says Carol Hoffecker, professor emerita of history at the University of Delaware. “Delawhere? is a real question.”
Here’s how Free Frank Warner, a liberal political blog, described Biden’s home state on August 23: “Delaware is one of those fake states with less than 1 million people and too few electoral votes to matter.”
Which is why Congressman Mike Castle points out a trend: The past two vice presidents came from electorally insignificant states—Tennessee (Al Gore) and Wyoming (Dick Cheney).
Yet most Americans have some knowledge, or at least buy a stereotype, about those places: Tennessee as home of Graceland and Memphis blues, Wyoming as home of “the Marlboro Man,” says Hoffecker.
Most of us know Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Alaska as the last great wilderness and home of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We know Senator John McCain’s Arizona as part of a legendary Southwest and home of the Grand Canyon. We know Senator Barack Obama’s Chicago as The Windy City, even if we don’t realize it’s so named for the bluster of its famous politicians.
On the Map: The Biden Factor, continues on Page 2