The former vice-president, an apostle of the bipartisan spirit in a Democratic party moving left, has defied his age once before to win an election and, at 76, could do so again

Caleb Boggs was a second world war hero who had never lost an election. The Republican senator for Delaware enjoyed a 30-point lead in the polls against an unknown, untested Democrat who was just 29 years old. Yet he was outplayed, and outworked, and lost by 1%. The David who slayed this Goliath was a good-looking lawyer with a love of fast cars. His name was Joe Biden.

The year was 1972 and Biden’s astounding win would make him the second youngest senator in American history. A few weeks later, he endured the unimaginable: his wife, Neilia, and baby daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car crash. In a phone call that was recorded, President Richard Nixon told Biden: “She was there when you won a great victory. You enjoyed it together, and now, I’m sure, she’ll be watching you from now on. Good luck to you.”

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