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A traditionalist who ran like himself

Mr Biden was a mediocre student with big ambitions, a young gregarious footballer from an Irish Catholic family who overcame a stutter and dreamed of running for president.

In the meantime, he settled down for school politics, serving as class president at his Catholic high school and adopting an accessible manner he would deploy decades later on the campaign trail.

“The joke was that if Joe stood by a lamppost he would strike up a conversation,” said Bob Markel, a childhood friend of Mr. Biden. “You spoke to him for 20 seconds, he reached out and said, ‘Joe Biden’.

He came from a line of politically engaged Pennsylvanians on his mother’s side, with a great-grandfather who served as a state senator. His father was a worthy man who had struggled financially, “a history student with an unyielding sense of justice,” Mr. Biden said in his eulogy. Joseph R. Biden Sr., who moved the family from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Delaware when Mr. Biden was 10, shaped his son’s moral compass and instilled in him a strong sense of identity; his story looms large in Mr. Biden’s efforts today to connect with working-class Americans.

Mr. Biden enrolled at the University of Delaware, where he entered politics as freshman president. He took part in occasional jinks, although he was quite conservative in his personal way.

“It’s the same style that I think we’ve seen since he was a teenager,” Mr. Markel said. “This moderation can be seen when he was a teenager. He was a fun-loving guy, certainly extrovert, but he didn’t do crazy things.

For all his political ambitions, he was aloof from the anti-war activism that took hold among his peers in the 1960s cauldron, and he was not one to protest. After graduating from law school, he followed a path to institutional democratic politics: young lawyer, part-time public defender, and rising star in the Delaware establishment.

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