A young Joe Biden once campaigned for office and won by relentlessly attacking his opponent’s age.
In 1972, Biden a 29-year-old first-term city councilman in Delaware, was running to become one of the youngest senators in the country’s history. He was up against incumbent Republican senator and former two-term Delaware governor, Cale Boggs.
Boggs was considered to be unbeatable, but young Biden appeared to have found his Achilles heel—his age.
At 63, Boggs was more than three decades older than Biden at the time and the young Democrat never let voters forget it.
In campaign ads and in interviews Biden targeted Boggs’ age and argued that this best days were behind him and he was unable to understand the issues at that time, CBS News noted.
“Cale Boggs’ generation dreamed of conquering polio. Joe Biden’s generation dreams of conquering heroin,” read one newspaper ad. “[Biden] understands what’s happening today.”
“To Cale Boggs an unfair tax was the 1948 poll tax. To Joe Biden an unfair tax is the 1972 income tax,” another ad reads. “It was no different for our fathers, but they never saw the unfairness of it all.”
Biden also hammered Boggs on his age in radio advertisement.
“One of the biggest differences between Cale Boggs and Joe Biden is the things they worry about,” the radio ad said. “In Cale Boggs’ day when Stalin ruled, Americans had visions of the Russian soldiers in our streets. In Joe Biden’s day, Americans have visions of American criminals in our streets. Joe Biden, he understands what’s happening today.”
Biden’s focus on Boggs’ age was so explicit that it drew criticism from the other Delaware senator at the time and one local reporter called it the “Dear old dad” approach.
Reporters also revealed at the time that Biden ordered the messaging strategy himself. Young Biden would praise Boggs in interviews but it was usually followed by a suggestion that his days in government are over.
He told reporters that he noticed Boggs “has lost that twinkle in his eyes” because he “doesn’t really want to run again,” and suggested that Boggs would retire after two years if he was re-elected.
Biden ultimately won the election. The Associated Press headline after the election was called read :”Biden stressed age to defeat Boggs, 63.”
Biden went on to serve in the Senate for 36 years before he became vice-president in 2008.
In 2020 he was elected president at 78-years-old, making him the oldest person to be elected as commander in chief.
Now, more that 50 years after defeating Boggs, Biden is the one facing questions about his age and concerns about whether his best days in government are behind him as he seeks re-election as president at 82-years-old.