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Campaign Curriculum

"She got her doctorate under her maiden name," Doody says. "I guess she didn't want professors to feel like they would treat her differently."

"I had always kidded Joe and said the mail always comes 'Senator and Mrs. Biden,' " Jill says. When she earned her diploma, she found that her husband had mounted signs in the driveway. One said, "Dr. and Senator Biden live here."

Push for the White House

It was sort of Jill's idea to run for president this time around. Joe was already thinking about it but figured his family might ask him not to. Instead, Jill called a family meeting.

The Bidens are big on doing things as a unit. His sister Valerie Biden Owens, who had run all his Senate races as well as his '88 presidential campaign, was national chair of his 2008 campaign and relocated to Iowa in August 2007 in advance of the caucuses. Val's daughter, Missy Owens, helped run political operations. By the day of the caucuses in January, much of the Biden clan was in Iowa.

Joe had thought about running in '04, but Jill was against it. The Bidens' daughter, Ashley, born in 1981, was still in college and she herself was still working on her doctorate, and in her gut, it just didn't feel like the right time. (As she told Vogue magazine recently, she expressed her opposition one day when a whole bunch of political folks had gathered in the Biden living room to encourage Joe to run. She'd been sunning in a bikini, and she scrawled the word "NO" across her stomach and then walked through the gathering.)

But after George W. Bush won reelection, something changed.

"I literally wore black for a week," Jill says. "I just could not believe that he won, because I felt that things were already so bad. I was so against the war. And I said to Joe, 'You've got to change this, you have to change this.' Actually, I talked to the boys first before I talked to Joe, and they were surprised, but I was pretty adamant about it. I said, 'I want Dad to run.' "

The story of the Biden family is one of deep lows followed by fantastic highs, which is why Joe's longtime friend and adviser Ted Kaufman has called him both the unluckiest man in the world and the luckiest. Biden earned a measly 0.93 percent of the state delegates in Iowa and pulled out of the race that night. Months later, Obama picked him as his running mate.

"With everything that's down, something good comes out of it, and I think that's the way we look at things," Jill says.

In 1987, when he ran for president the first time, Biden dropped out well before the caucuses because of a plagiarism scandal. Shortly after, he suffered a brain aneurysm so severe that a priest administered last rites at the hospital. Jill and Val believe that if Joe hadn't dropped out of the race, he might've campaigned himself to death.

"He would've died, he would've definitely died," Jill says.

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