Politics is Joe’s thing, Biden has said. Teaching is hers.
Yet, in recent weeks, she has been doing more and more of his thing, becoming an integral part of her husband and President Obama’s reelection campaign.
Unlike Joe, Jill rarely makes the kind of verbal missteps that have become a part of the vice president’s political narrative. Republicans seem always at the ready to pounce on the next possible gaffe of the loquacious ad-libber.
Jill, who has been married to Joe for 35 years, has a different approach. Behind a lectern, she can seem stiff and studious, like the instructor she is. Even after 13 campaigns for her husband and son Beau, who serves as Delaware’s attorney general, she is still not quite comfortable speaking to crowds. Some say that this slight awkwardness and the absence of campaign-slick tactics are assets.
“She could be your mother, your friend, your sister, your neighbor. It’s that feeling you get with her,” said Stephanie Cutter, deputy manager of the Obama campaign. “The sign of a good campaigner is to make people think that you’re not campaigning.”
The Obama campaign, which refers to the second lady as Dr. Biden in a nod to her 2007 doctorate in education from the University of Delaware, has set up Biden, 61, as its everywoman. Since her steady performance introducing her husband at the Democratic National Convention last month, the campaign has sent Jill Biden to about 20 second-tier and suburban markets in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire and Minnesota, where it is trying to reach women and rally supporters.
At the same time, Biden has carved out a rare place in the annals of political spouses. Each Tuesday and Thursday, she spends a full day at Northern Virginia Community College, where she teaches entry-level English. The grandmother of five also makes time to babysit, as she did in Wilmington, Del., last weekend. She and Joe have three grown children, daughter Ashley and sons Beau and Hunter, whom Jill adopted when she married Joe, a young widower who had recently been elected to the U.S. Senate.
“She just makes it work,” Beau Biden said of his mom’s full schedule. “She’s just tough, and when she dives into something — like she has — she is going to find the time to make it work.”
At the community college, her students know her as “Dr. B.” When they ask whether she is related to Joe Biden, she says, “Yes,” acknowledging only that he is a relative. She works out of a cubicle in an office with 60 other faculty members and helped start a mentoring program for women at risk of dropping out of the college. At her request, her Secret Service detail dresses as students — although their earpieces sometimes draw attention.
“She demanded no special treatment,” said Jim McClellan, dean of the college’s liberal arts division and Biden’s boss. “She wants to be treated like a member of the faculty.”