Where there's 'faith in Joe'

Delaware knows him, likes him and respects him

August 24, 2008|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,scott.calvert@baltsun.com

GREENVILLE, Del. - Two or three times a week, a jovial, silvery-haired man walks into the Brew HaHa! cafe and orders a medium or large coffee, sometimes leaving room for cream, sometimes not.

"Good morning, sweetie!" he often says to Jessica Oliver behind the counter. "How are you?"

"Hi, Joe!" she replies. "How's everything?"

Then Sen. Joe Biden heads to the train station in nearby Wilmington and rides south to Washington, a daily commute he's made since being elected to the Senate 36 years ago.

Those early-morning coffee orders, fondly recalled yesterday by Oliver, have been put on ice - at least until November.

Now that Biden has been named Democrat Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate, the veteran senator will be crisscrossing the country nonstop for the next 10 weeks with one goal: to reach the White House.

It's well worth it to lose his business, and his nice $1 tip, says Oliver, who at 19 will cast her first vote this fall. She was already a big Obama fan. Now her tiny state, home to just 850,000 people and smaller than any other but Rhode Island, will be thrust into the nation's consciousness.

"Delaware's getting recognition," she said, "which is good because people don't really think about Delaware. It's like, Dela-where?"

Biden, 65, has made two unsuccessful bids for the White House, in 1988 and this year. But his quest for the nation's second-highest office is generating excitement even among die-hard Republicans here.

"As a Delawarian, I'm thrilled," said 37-year-old banker Tony Lunger. Even though he "certainly will not" vote the Obama-Biden ticket, he said Biden is popular. People respect his decision to live in Wilmington rather than cloister himself in Washington, a place Lunger calls "warped."

A few doors up from the coffee shop, Chuck Wagner emerged from the back office of his hardware store to offer his thoughts on his longtime customer, whose home is a few miles away.

Wagner, an independent, said he remains undecided in the presidential race despite his enthusiasm for Biden. One thing he knows is that the Delaware senator would bring valuable foreign policy expertise to a Democratic administration.

"I have faith in Joe," Wagner said, "but I'm still not sure on Obama. I don't really know about him."

For one lifelong Republican who lives just across the border in Pennsylvania - a battleground state - Biden's elevation could mean unexpected support for Obama.

Nick Quercetti has never voted Democratic. Yet the 52-year-old construction executive said he is 75 percent sure he will vote for Obama. "I just think McCain is same old, same old," he said while ordering coffee at Brew HaHa!.

But the main reason for his likely conversion seems to be Biden himself. Until yesterday, Quercetti was inclined to hold his nose and vote for McCain. Obama's choice of running mate has apparently changed that: Quercetti has known Biden for a decade or so and respects him. "I just think he's a sincere and down-to-earth guy," he said.

Quercetti and Biden attended Archmere Academy, a Catholic college prep school in Claymont, northeast of Wilmington. Though Biden is 13 years older, both are actively involved in their alma mater. Quercetti has also attended Biden's political fund-raisers on occasion and bumped into the senator at a youth hockey game.

Late yesterday morning, Quercetti and his wife, Patty, drove to Biden's neighborhood after seeing on CNN that he had yet to fly to Illinois for a rally with Obama. The Quercettis found about 150 people and a scrum of news reporters hoping for a glimpse of Biden as he left his home.

When Biden's car appeared at the driveway's gate, he got out and popped in at his mother's nearby house to say goodbye. He also uttered a few words to the crowd, but the Quercettis couldn't hear a word over the noisy news helicopter hovering overhead.

"He looked great, very presidential," Patty Quercetti gushed afterward.

One man who arrived a few minutes late was Lewis Collat. The 82-year-old retired engineer set out for a walk before realizing there might be some excitement at the Biden residence. He went back for his camera. Then he went back again for binoculars.

Twenty minutes later he reached his destination, only to find nothing but police officers and a few exhausted television news crews.

"He's a good, regular guy," Collat said of Biden.

"The only negative about him, really, is he speaks sometimes before he thinks of the consequences," Collat said.

Aside from the need to think before speaking, Collat would offer this advice: "You've got to be succinct."

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