WASHINGTON — The daredevil feats of little Joey Biden left the other neighbourhood kids in droopy-jawed disbelief.
They recalled the insane stunts the future vice-president would attempt — ones with a low potential for reward and an uncomfortably high risk of death or disfigurement.
He was supposedly the only neighbourhood kid willing to walk under a slow-moving dump truck. An older boy recalled blurting out a grade-school dare and being incredulous that anyone agreed. Biden apparently came within a whisker of being crushed.
There was only one taker for a $5 challenge to climb a blazing mountain of coal waste, where flames played on a surface pocked by fiery craters.
There was also a Tarzan game where Biden supposedly swung between loose steel girders six storeys over a construction site.
Those anecdotes come from a profile of Biden in Richard Ben Cramer’s book “What It Takes,” which explores the lives of the presidential candidates who ran in 1988.
“There are still guys in Scranton today who talk about the feats of Joey Biden,” Cramer wrote. “Once Joey set his mind, it was like he didn’t think at all — he just did. That’s why you didn’t want to fight him.”
Biden is now weighing the ultimate unlikely stunt: Launch a presidential bid at age 72, defeat the well-funded Hillary Clinton campaign, beat the Republicans and enter the White House at age 74.
He’s reportedly talking to friends, family and donors about a possible run. The initial report in the New York Times — which hasn’t been denied — said that as Biden’s son, Beau, fought a fatal cancer, he urged his father to run.
Ironically, it was written by the same columnist whose reporting helped end Biden’s first presidential run. Twenty-eight years ago, Maureen Dowd broke a story about plagiarized lines in Biden speeches.
It didn’t start off as plagiarism. Biden’s speeches had been quoting a few stirring sentences from British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock about the opportunities denied to his hard-working, coal-mining ancestors. Over time, Biden stopped mentioning Kinnock, but kept the lines.
That story opened the floodgates to more — about quotes from Robert Kennedy that weren’t attributed and about his trouble in college when he turned in someone else’s work and cited it with one mega-footnote.
As that eroded his campaign, Biden dropped out to focus on another big fight. As head of the Senate justice committee, he helped block the Supreme Court nomination of conservative Robert Bork.
Another presidential run fell flat in 2008, when he took just one per cent in the Iowa primary.
Now Washington is speculating about whether he’s serious — or whether he’s simply letting his name float out there as a possible Plan B, in case the Clinton campaign suddenly derails.
The White House isn’t shooting it down.
President Barack Obama’s spokesman was asked this week whether he’d resign to work on Biden’s campaign, should Biden run.
“The president has often described choosing Joe Biden to be his running mate as the smartest decision he has ever made in politics,” spokesman Josh Earnest told CNN.
“And I think that there are a lot of people in Washington, D.C., certainly a lot of Democrats, that if he made that decision, that they would be honoured to work with him.”
That old book about 1988 suggested Biden always ran calculations in his head before attempting his crazy stunts.
It said Joey only made a run for the dump truck after watching the speed of the tires and concluding he wouldn’t be crushed. He’s made those calculations about the presidency many times, even weighing a run as a relative youngster in 1984.
But the presidential ambition goes way back.
The book describes how he courted his first wife, who later died in a car accident. Cramer wrote that Biden told her in college he’d be a senator by age 30 and president some day.
When he met his future mother-in-law for the first time, he was still in college and she asked what he wanted to be eventually.
“’President,’ Joe answered,” according to Cramer’s book.
“For a moment, she just stared. Joe added helpfully: ’Of the United States.’ By the end of one weekend, Mrs. Hunter had to concede: maybe the kid could make it. That boy could sure talk.”