It was 1972. Richard Nixon was ensconced in the White House and Republicans were confident that he would win a second term. Democrats were trying to find positives wherever they could and there was good news in Delaware that November when a young upstart, Joe Biden, managed to upset the odds and take a Senate seat off veteran Republican J Caleb Boggs.
But Biden's joy was short-lived. A few weeks later, his wife Neilia and their one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash. Her car was hit by an articulated lorry as she pulled out at a junction. Their other children, sons Beau and Hunter, were taken to hospital but would make full recoveries.
The fledgling politician, who had just turned 30, considered dropping out to care full-time for his family, but senior figures in the Democratic Party urged him to keep his seat. On January 5, 1973, he was sworn into office in the hospital ward where his children were being cared for. Moving photographs showed four-year-old Beau in the bed as his father took the oath.
The pictures would go viral years later when Beau died of brain cancer in 2015, aged 46.
Whatever one may feel about Biden's politics, there is no doubt that he has suffered great loss in his private life. It is said that his devout Catholic faith helped him through those tough times - as did his marriage to Jill Jacobs, whom he wed in 1977 - and he will likely need to muster as much inner strength as he can when, as the Democrats' presumptive nominee for president, he takes on the formidable presence of Donald Trump in a bid for the Oval Office.
Should Biden be successful, he would - at 78 - be the oldest to be sworn in as president. That record is held by Trump, who was 70 on Inauguration Day in January 2017.
But Biden's age is likely to be used against him time and again by Trump, who already likes to refer to his opponent as 'Sleepy Joe'. And it's said to be a cause for concern for many dyed-in-the-wool Democrats who, in April 2020, may be coming to terms with the surprise that it is Biden - and not the likes of Elizabeth Warren - who is the last of the party's hopefuls still standing.
For a long time, it looked as though the man who served as vice president for eight years under Barack Obama, was an outside bet for the nomination. Bernie Sanders - one year Biden's senior - had the backing of the most left-wing strand of Democrats as well as being something of a star for celebrities as diverse as comedian Larry David and rock band The Strokes. But on April 8, Sanders suspended his campaign and later vowed to support Biden.
Sanders' brand of socialism seems at odds with Biden's relative conservatism, and for many Democrats, they are being left with a bleak choice when it comes to voting for a new president.
"Sanders' supporters now face a nearly impossible situation," writes Derecka Purnell, a Guardian US columnist. "For years, politicians and pundits asserted that Sanders is not a 'real Democrat'. Those same critics now expect Sanders supporters to 'vote blue no matter who', regardless of being independent voters.
"If Biden loses to Donald Trump, then Sanders' supporters will be blamed for failing to fall in line. If Biden wins, the Democratic party will resist any transformational concessions to the party's left voters."
Several opinion polls show Biden narrowly ahead of Trump when it comes to American voters' choice of president with a Reuters/Ipsos poll putting the Democrat five percentage points in front. The same poll, however, showed an increase in support for Trump with 48pc of respondents approving of the way he has handled the Covid-19 crisis.
While the polls go up and down, one guarantee is that a bruising campaign is in the offing for Biden. Larry Donnelly, a Boston attorney and US politics commentator who is based in Ireland, believes his age will come to be seen as important in the months before November's vote.
"Not only is he 77, but he looks and sounds every bit of those 77 years," he says. "He has visibly aged since he was vice president and there is genuine concern among Democrats about his ability to take on Trump in this campaign and what his capacity to govern for four years is. And Trump and his people will use that against him time and time again.
"By contrast, Trump is just a few calendar years younger but seems to have boundless energy. He's up to all hours of the night tweeting and at it again the next morning. Whether you like or loathe him, he never slows down and in that respect, he and Biden could not be more different."
But with age comes experience, and Biden is among the most seasoned of American politicians - with almost half a century of high-level work under his belt.
Appeal in black America
"You would be hard-pressed to find an American who doesn't know who Joe Biden is," Donnelly says, "and not just because he was vice president for eight years. He was one of the best-known people in the Senate, especially when he was on the judiciary committee for the Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas hearings."
And, Donnelly suggests that while his conservatism may not appeal to Sanders supporters, it's the very quality that might make him palatable to some who voted Republican in 2016 but have now tired of Trump.
"He has an appeal to middle America that Sanders and Clinton don't have," he says. "And that's significant."
For Liam Kennedy, professor of American Studies and director of the Clinton Institute, UCD, Biden's appeal in black America should not be discounted either. "It's a demographic that Sanders couldn't come close to reaching, not to mention Trump. You have to remember that the black vote is probably the single most powerful and important block of votes within the very diverse Democratic Party. That can't be underestimated. It can help carry home states. And Biden carries much of that [respect among African Americans] thanks to his vice presidency with Obama."
Kennedy also believes that Biden's Irish roots will be important to the estimated 70 million Americans who claim some Irish ancestry. Biden has long claimed to be proud of his sense of Irishness and genealogists have shown that his closest Irish connection is his great grandfather on his mother's side, James Finnegan, who emigrated as a child from Co Louth to the US in 1850.
"I think there's a sense that he's seen as one of their own," Kennedy says, "although he's not in there at those Irish-American events in the way that others might be - people like [Congressman] Richie Neal. But I do think his Catholicism will be seen to be important. There is an older Irish American who regards him as one of their own - there's a respect for him there. He's seen as an empathetic figure."
Should Biden become the next president, he would only be the second Catholic - after John F Kennedy - to hold the office.
"It's remarkable," Kennedy says, "especially when you consider the high proportion of Catholics in both the Senate and Congress and when you think of the fact that a significant chunk of the population is Catholic."
Despite Elizabeth Warren's assertion this week that she would happily stand as Biden's running mate, the smart money is on him selecting Kamala Harris. The 55-year-old Californian senator is seen as a going-places-fast figure who can help him win votes.
"You can't forget that most white female voters last time voted for Donald Trump," Larry Donnelly says, "but I think they are more likely to go with Biden this time, especially if someone like Kamala Harris is on the same ticket as him. That will draw women voters for sure."
There have been question marks over Biden's suitability for office considering that there is a sexual assault allegation from an ex-aide hanging over him. Biden has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Liam Kennedy believes Biden's commitment to choosing a female running mate will be seen to be an important one. After all, there has never been a female vice president, let alone president. "Of the many diverse constituencies that the Democrats need to win over in order to win this election, what they call 'suburban women' is certainly one.
"A female candidate may be able to reach out there. It's certainly felt that the female vote for Trump, which was high in 2016, is not his most stable vote and there are people there who could move away if they see someone they like more. Ironically, a lot of them didn't like [Hillary] Clinton at all."
For Larry Donnelly, Biden's candidacy will be marked by significant strengths and weaknesses. "Biden's greatest strength is that, as someone from Pennsylvania, he's rooted very strongly in middle America. He has a tremendous amount of experience - nobody can say that he's not qualified for the presidency.
"Plus, he's likeable and relatable. He's trying to appeal to people who feel left behind in today's America. He's talked about having a terrible stutter when he was younger and of overcoming that - and that's a theme that he might be able to use to his advantage, especially if he can paint Donald Trump as a bully during the campaign."
The negatives? "Well, there are open questions about his capacity. He seems to lose his train of thought in the middle of a sentence."
And there have been numerous incidences of this on the campaign trail, he says, and that's why his choice of running mate will be crucial.
"And he can't electrify people in the way that Obama did. There's no question about that. He has to make a 'safe pair of hands' type of argument."
Liam Kennedy, meanwhile, says when it comes to Biden, one cannot discount the numerous gaffes he has made. Biden, after all, once quipped: "I may be Irish, but I'm not stupid" - words that hardly endeared him to Irish America.
Fighting Irish aspect
"And there's the possibility health issues will rear their head in ways that could be damaging. And will he be assertive enough when it comes to directly engaging Trump, because he's someone who, so far, has tried to side-step the more argumentative debates and commentary. I think he is capable of doing it [fighting Trump], but it's not his natural forte. Maybe he should play up that fighting Irish aspect a bit more.
"But there are two key strengths. One is that he does present a sense of steady hands in a time of great political uncertainty, someone who's been there a long time and someone who's served at the highest points of American politics - not just as vice president, but chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on two occasions, chairing the Judiciary [Committee in the Senate] before that.
"This is an exceptionally distinguished politician at a point when Americans feel insecure. That's a big selling point and I think you've already seen that in the way that people have rallied around him in the Democratic Party."
The other main strength Kennedy observes is his empathy. "He is a deeply empathetic figure. Now, he doesn't want to carry that empathy into the touchy-feely stuff, but people really sense that he has a lot of empathy and it's what they like about him. And I think that's very powerful messaging at this point in time when there's so much division and partisanship and polarisation in the US.
"And so much of that has been deepened and worsened by the way the pandemic has been itself politicised, particularly by Trump and the Republican Party."
Forty eight years ago, Biden wasn't given a hope of defeating J Caleb Boggs in Delaware. He had virtually no money to run a campaign and he was regarded as a somewhat naïve outsider. But Biden prevailed.
In 2020, he faces the biggest fight of his long political life - and one that carries the greatest prize of all. This time, few would bet against him.