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Biden's Scranton childhood left lasting impression

 Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., gestures as he tours the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008. The presumptive vice...

Democratic Convention

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., gestures as he tours the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008. The presumptive vice...

Joe Biden left blue-collar, bare-knuckles Scranton for the greener pastures of Delaware when he was only 10 years old. But Scranton, it turns out, left an indelible impression on him.
Barack Obama's running mate has returned again and again to the city of his youth, where he attended grammar school at St. Paul's, learned politics at his Irish-Catholic grandfather's knee, and made friendships that have lasted 60 years. He's such a familiar presence here and in the Philadelphia media market _ which includes Delaware, his political base for more than 35 years _ that he's known as Pennsylvania's third senator.
That may be one reason Biden's on the Democratic ticket. In choosing a lunch-bucket Democrat, Obama hopes to capitalize on Biden's appeal to the socially conservative, working-class voters who populate Scranton and many other regions of Pennsylvania. Named for the late governor from Scranton, so-called "Casey Democrats" are a critical voting bloc _ and they largely spurned Obama in the primary, handing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a 10-point victory.
Like Biden, Clinton emphasized her ties to Scranton, where her grandfather worked in a lace mill and her father was born and buried. In an ad, she told of spending summers at a rustic cottage on nearby Lake Winola.
Biden's Scranton roots run deeper, and Obama hopes that enough voters in battleground Pennsylvania see themselves in the silver-haired senator to make the difference in the race against Republican John McCain.
Many of Biden's closest Scranton pals, basking in the reflected glory of their famous friend's vice presidential nod, plan to gather Wednesday night to watch Biden address the Democratic National Convention.
"Barack Obama's going to be well-served," said Tom Bell, 65, an insurance agent and lifelong Biden friend from Scranton who is hosting the party. "Quite frankly, I wish it were the other way around."
Until 1952, Biden lived with his parents and grandparents in a two-story Colonial on a tree-lined street in Green Ridge, an Irish-Catholic enclave and one of Scranton's nicest neighborhoods. Biden slept in an attic bedroom with sloped ceilings and a view of West Mountain, scrawling "Joe Biden was here" and "Kilroy was here" on the walls.
Last year, the Delaware senator took his 91-year-old mother to see the home on North Washington Avenue. The unannounced visit startled Anne Kearns, 73, who bought the house 46 years ago and raised her own family there.
"This neighborhood went for Hillary" in the primary, said Kearns, who keeps a framed photo of the encounter in her parlor. "Now that Hillary is not there, I hope the whole city gets behind Obama and Biden. I think they will."
Republicans will do their best to see that doesn't happen.
Seizing on comments Obama made at an April fundraiser in San Francisco, Pennsylvania GOP chairman Robert A. Gleason Jr. said he wondered if Biden agreed with Obama that small-town Pennsylvanians are bitter and "cling to guns or religion."
"An Obama-Biden ticket will not cure what ails them in Pennsylvania," Gleason said in a statement.
In many ways, Biden's childhood in Green Ridge was almost a reverse image of Obama's unconventional upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia.
Friends recall an adventurous, charismatic boy who loved pickup baseball and football and never turned down a dare. Biden once climbed to the summit of a smoldering, unstable mountain of coal refuse; another time, he ran underneath a moving piece of heavy machinery _ emerging, unscathed, on the other side.
"You couldn't dare him to do anything, because the problem was he'd do it," said close friend Jim Kennedy, 68, who lived along an alley behind the Biden house. "His DNA is still up in that alley, because I never saw anybody bleed as much as him."
Larry Orr, 65, a retired electrician and another longtime Biden friend, remembers the Green Ridge of Biden's youth as an archetypical middle American neighborhood, "an innocent time, a very innocent time."
But 1950s Scranton also suffered from a harsher reality. Coal mines and textile mills were shutting down, forcing families to pack up and leave. The city was at the beginning of a long, painful economic decline, and Biden's father could not find enough work.
His family joined the exodus, moving to Claymont, Delaware, where Joe Biden Sr. prospered as a car salesman. They returned to Scranton frequently, though, spending weekends, holidays and summers at the home owned by his maternal grandparents.
In his 2007 memoir, "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics," Biden said he learned politics at his grandfather's kitchen table, where the Finnegan clan _ Irish, Catholic and staunchly Democratic _ would "argue local politics, state politics, world events, Truman against MacArthur."
Though popular with his peers, the now-famously loquacious politician struggled with a humiliating stutter. His teacher at St. Paul's gave him a cruel moniker _ "Bi Bi Blackbird" _ because Biden tripped over his own name. The stutter followed him to Delaware, where high school classmates called him Dash, because he sounded like he was talking in Morse code.
Years later, when Biden sat on Kennedy's front stoop in Scranton and told him that he was running for Senate, Kennedy was skeptical.
"I know about Delaware, that it's solid Republican (at the time). I looked at him," Kennedy said. "He looked at me and said, 'I can talk now.'
And he didn't stop.
Associated Press Writer Kimberly Hefling in Denver contributed to this report.

Updated : 2021-10-21 09:02 GMT+08:00