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As Trump goes off beam, Biden bids to win the heart of middle America

If he knocks out Trump, Joe Biden will become only the second Catholic to be US president. He is an experienced campaigner, strong on empathy, but there are doubts about his age and health, writes John Meagher

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Appeal: a recent poll put Biden five percentage points ahead of Trump

Appeal: a recent poll put Biden five percentage points ahead of Trump

Tragic past: Senator Joseph Biden takes the oath of office in January 1973 in his son Beau Biden's hospital room after a car crash that killed his wife and daughter.

Tragic past: Senator Joseph Biden takes the oath of office in January 1973 in his son Beau Biden's hospital room after a car crash that killed his wife and daughter.

Jibes: Trump refers to his opponent as 'Sleepy Joe'

Jibes: Trump refers to his opponent as 'Sleepy Joe'

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Appeal: a recent poll put Biden five percentage points ahead of Trump

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.