Biden's hometown: A mirror of his low-key White House bid

Wilmington (United States) (AFP) –


Unmarked Secret Service cars bar access to Joe Biden's house in a plush neighborhood of Wilmington, the US East Coast city that mirrors the look of his presidential campaign: quiet and low-key.

None of the impeccably trimmed yards of the neighboring homes are studded with the small political placards that many Americans proudly plant to show whom they support during election season.

It is an apt and symbolic absence, with 100 days until voting in a campaign marked by the 77-year-old Biden's subtle strategy of leaving his opponent Donald Trump to do much of the talking.

Only the heavy security deployed around the home at 1209 Barley Mill Road betrays that the Democratic former vice president has been leading his campaign from his basement since the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world into disarray.

Many of his brief public appearances have been close to home, and Biden has opted not to hold any rallies as a precaution against the virus that is still surging across much of the United States.

Demi Kollias remembers last having seen Biden in March at her eatery Claymont Steak Shop, a local institution where he is a regular.

On that day, like he always did, the famously avuncular politician bantered with staff and even posed for pictures as he tucked into his cheesesteak sandwich.

"He is very personal, very friendly, very pleasant, very nice. He would talk to anybody," Kollias told AFP, adding the inability to plunge into campaign crowds must be frustrating for him.

"It's a very crazy situation, a very difficult time really," she added.

Trump went ahead with a mass rally in Oklahoma, but the June event was dogged by an uneven performance by the Republican president, weak attendance and worries it was a vector to spread the virus.

- 'Amtrak Joe' -

The roughly 70,000 people of Wilmington know that in normal times, the best chance of spotting the man most refer to just as "Joe" is at the train station that bears his name.

As Delaware's representative to the US Senate for nearly 40 years, he always preferred taking the train for the daily two-hour trip to Washington.

The station was even where he announced his quickly aborted 1988 run at the presidency -- the first of his three tries at the top office in the land.

But the only trace there on a recent day of a man nicknamed "Amtrak Joe," for the US passenger train company, is the plaque at the station bearing his name.

"It's the oddest campaign I have ever seen," local Ray Saccomandi, 54, told AFP on a nearly deserted sidewalk on Wilmington's main commercial drag. "This campaign is done via Zoom and social media."

He said he believes a major effort probably wasn't necessary locally given that Delaware, a tiny state with under a million residents, is a reliable supporter of Biden's Democratic Party.

Yet Biden's subtle strategy has shown signs of success: the latest polls have him with a comfortable lead over Trump -- though most polls did not favor the former reality TV star when he beat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

- 'I want results' -

Another of Wilmington's civic sites to bear the name of the man Trump has attacked as "Sleepy Joe" is the Joseph R Biden Jr Aquatic Center, which is even adorned with the vice-presidential seal.

It's an appropriate honor for Biden, who worked as a lifeguard at the pool in the primarily African-American area of Wilmington in his youth.

He has said the experience opened his eyes to black Americans' lives and forged in him a desire to work for equality, one of the hallmarks of his long career.

Some 60 years later, Biden's understated campaign does not seem to be unleashing the passions of a divided and anxious America, reeling from social, economic and pandemic-driven upheaval.

Michael Oliver, a 30-year-old sport coach, said it didn't matter whether the next president might be a local.

"At this point, I just want -- I would like results. I think what everybody would like is results," he told AFP as he shot baskets on a court near the pool.

Lifeguard Brandon Crooks, who was working at the pool on a recent day, was similarly lacking in passion, saying local elections have a much more direct impact on his life than a national vote.

"I understand the presidential campaign is really important, but you know I do have my priorities and my own community," he told AFP.

Crooks, 23, doesn't see himself following in Biden's footsteps in making the leap from lifeguard to running for the White House, but that could change.

"Not really, but who knows," he said. "He (Biden) probably didn't want to be the president at 19 when he was working here, either."