Not for the first time in her career, Valerie Biden Owens brought her energy to a room full of strangers to talk up her big brother.
Biden Owens — a longtime campaign adviser, former fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Politics and one of the first women to manage a presidential campaign — told a little more than a dozen voters in Keene Friday afternoon that she has been managing former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaigns since he ran for student government, all the way up through his shock U.S. Senate victory in 1972 and his pair of previous presidential bids in 1988 and 2008.
She not only shares her brother’s bright blue eyes and raised brow, but speaks in the same cadence and even embraces supporters by the shoulders in much the same way Biden does.
She also touted Biden as a supporter of women, even when it wasn’t popular to make her his campaign manager for a statewide race.
“... women at that time, the only thing they had to do on campaigns was open and close headquarters, and to answer the telephone and get coffee,” Biden Owens quipped at the campaign’s Keene field office on the corner of Winchester and Ralston streets.
Biden Owens offered a unique window into the life of the former VP before he became a household name, describing how he would take her everywhere as kids, even when the older boys didn’t want to let her in on their pickup games or building a fort.
She also described how he got over his stutter, reciting poetry in the mirror and enduring bullying before going on to become known to many Americans as “Uncle Joe,” and delivering eulogies at the funerals of statesmen like John McCain and Ted Kennedy.
“I think that that’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to him,” Biden Owens said of her brother’s stutter. “Because of it, he knows what it’s like to feel silenced and be shut down, and to be bullied.”
Before making phone calls to potential voters from the office and later heading off to a house party in Peterborough, Biden Owens took questions from the crowd.
The session turned into a quasi-focus group, with the guest soliciting honest feedback on the campaign.
One attendee asked why Biden has not been more forceful in going after President Donald Trump and parrying attacks from Democratic primary rivals.
Biden Owens said the former VP is concerned about too much infighting taking over the primary.
She also lamented the crowded debate stages, arguing they’re better suited for soundbites than an actual exchange of ideas. One example Biden Owens pointed to was when U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California criticized Biden’s past stances on busing, arguing that were it not for the school integration measures, she would not have had as good of a chance at the success she enjoys today.
Harris’ campaign made T-shirts after the debate reading “That Little Girl Was Me,” a reference to Harris’ viral moment on the role school busing played in her life as a woman of African and Indian descent.
“He’s very conscious of that T-shirt moment,” Biden Owens said of her brother. “... You know what I mean by the T-shirt moment? ‘I was that little girl’ and — for Christ sake, Joe’s been for civil rights since he lived it for his whole life.”
Later, in an interview, Biden Owens also expressed frustration at a perception among some voters that Biden’s campaign has been limiting the candidate’s exposure to voters to avoid gaffes.
In true Biden fashion, she described such thinking “a bunch of malarky.”