Steve August 20, 2020

WASHINGTON — Five decades after he first entered national politics, Joe Biden will accept his party’s nomination for president Thursday on the final night of the all-virtual Democratic National Convention.

As the convention got underway, the former vice president was set to speak later in the evening to an empty venue near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, but supporters have arrived in cars to watch on a giant screen from a parking lot outside and cheer the state’s most famous resident. Protesters, backing President Tweety McTreason, also were on hand.

The final night of the DNC program features appearances from Biden’s family, including his son Hunter, who has struggled with addiction and is rarely seen in public. Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played a vice president herself on HBO’s “Veep,” will serve as emcee. The Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks) sang the national anthem. Also-ran 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Yang will also speak.

Democrats paid tribute to John Lewis, the civil rights leader and congressman who died last month with a performance by John Legend and Common. Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Lewis’ hometown of Atlanta, urged Americans to be inspired by the example he set.

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“Congressman Lewis would not be silenced. And neither can we,” she said. “We cannot wait for some other time, some other place, some other heroes. We must be the heroes of our generation.”

This has been a long time coming for the 77-year-old Biden.

After a David-and-Goliath campaign against a powerful Republican in 1972, Biden entered the Senate as both its youngest member and one of its most tragic figures. His wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident just weeks after his election and he almost decided to quit before even being sworn in.

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His story and style made the young Biden a natural potential candidate for higher office and he first seriously considered a White House bid in 1980. “I remember thinking: I have no business making a run for president,” he later wrote in his memoir “Promises to Keep.” “I was 37 years old…Am I flying too close to the sun?”

Biden decided not to run that year, nor in 1984, despite taking another serious look at it. And when he finally did pull the trigger in 1988, it ended in humiliation when he withdrew from the race after getting caught lifting some lines of his speeches from a British politician.

Cowed, Biden focused on his work in the Senate and didn’t take another shot at the brass ring until 2008. He flamed out in Iowa, where he finished with less than one percent, but finished with the significant consolation prize of the vice presidency.

He explored another run in 2016, but opted to step aside for Hillary Clinton, citing the recent death of his son Beau. His 2020 bid got off to a poor start and many Democrats, including some close to Biden, privately predicted he would cap his career with another embarrassing loss.

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He finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and second in New Hampshire before, in the course of a stunning few days, everything turned around. He rallied to a commanding victory in South Carolina then surged as the other moderate candidates in the race dropped out to endorse him.

Image: Alex Seitz WaldAlex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is senior digital politics reporter for NBC News.

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