1972 United States Senate election in Delaware

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1972 United States Senate election in Delaware

← 1966 November 7, 1972 1978 →
  Joe Biden first official photo.jpg BoggsCaleb.jpg
Nominee Joe Biden J. Caleb Boggs
Party Democratic Republican
Popular vote 116,006 112,844
Percentage 50.5% 49.1%

Delaware Senate Election Results by County, 1972.svg
US Senate 1972 Delaware by State House District.svg

Biden:      40–50%      50–60%      60–70%      70–80%
Boggs:      40–50%      50–60%      60–70%

U.S. senator before election

J. Caleb Boggs

Elected U.S. Senator

Joe Biden

The United States Senate election in Delaware, 1972 was held November 7, 1972. Incumbent Republican United States Senator J. Caleb Boggs ran for a third term in the United States Senate. Boggs faced off against Joe Biden, a New Castle County Councilman. Though Boggs was expected to easily win a third term over the then-unknown Biden, the election ended up being the closest Senate election of the year. Biden narrowly defeated Boggs by 3,162 votes, winning his first of seven U.S. Senate elections.

This was the first time that future United States President-elect Joe Biden was elected as a senator from Delaware. Biden was declared winner of the 2020 United States Presidential election by the Associated Press on November 7, 2020, 48 years to the day Biden was elected to his Senate seat.

General election campaign[edit]

Longtime Delaware political figure and incumbent Republican Senator J. Caleb Boggs was considering retirement, which would likely have left U.S. Representative Pete du Pont and Wilmington Mayor Harry G. Haskell Jr. in a divisive Senate primary fight. To avoid a potential primary, U.S. President Richard Nixon helped convince Boggs to run again with full party support.

Aside from Biden, a New Castle County Councilman, no Democrats wanted to challenge Boggs.[1] Biden's campaign had virtually no money and was given no chance of winning.[2] The campaign was managed by Biden's sister, Valerie Biden Owens (who would go on to manage his future campaigns), was staffed by other members of the Biden family, and relied upon handed-out newsprint position papers.[3] Biden did receive some assistance from the AFL-CIO and from Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell.[1] Biden's campaign focused on withdrawal from Vietnam, the environment, civil rights, mass transit, more equitable taxation, health care, the public's dissatisfaction with politics-as-usual, and "change".[1][3]

During the summer, Biden trailed Boggs by almost 30 percentage points;[1] however, Biden's energy level, attractive young family, and ability to connect with voters' emotions gave him an advantage over the ready-to-retire Boggs.[4] On November 7, 1972, Biden upset Boggs by a margin of 3,162 votes.[3]

In 2004, admitted Mafia hitman and former Teamsters Local 326 President Frank Sheeran alleged in his memoir that in the week prior to Election Day an unidentified representative of the Biden campaign (described as the campaign's legal counsel) approached him about preventing the distribution of the Wilmington News Journal because Sen. Boggs was running an advertisement unflattering to Biden. In exchange for undisclosed considerations and because Sheeran felt "Biden was better for labor anyway," the Teamsters Union allegedly organized a strike preventing the newspapers from being delivered and sabotaged a shipment of newspaper printing materials and preventing the Wilmington News Journal from being distributed in the week prior to Election day. Sheeran's accusation is unclear as to whether Biden himself was aware of the plot, but after the election Sheeran said he "could always reach out to [Biden] and he would listen."[5][6]

The credibility of Sheeran's account has been called into serious question. It conflicts directly with articles in the Wilmington News-Journal on the strike, published on November 6 and November 22, 1972. While there was a newspaper strike in Wilmington in November 1972, it was not a Teamster strike; it was an American Newspaper Guild Local #10 strike. The paper was not printed on the days in question because the Printers Union briefly joined the strike, not because of a picket line "no one would mess with." The paper's deliveries were not shut down for a week, but for two days. The picket line did not come down on the day after the election; rather, the Guild remained on strike until Nov. 22.[citation needed]

At the time of the 1972 election, Biden was a little less than 30 years old. He turned 30--the minimum age for a U.S. senator--on November 20, 1972, in time for the Senate term beginning January 3, 1973. At the commencement of his Senate term, Biden was the sixth-youngest U.S. Senator in history.[7]


1972 United States Senate election in Delaware[8]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Joe Biden 116,006 50.48% +9.59%
Republican J. Caleb Boggs (incumbent) 112,844 49.10% -10.02%
American Henry Majka 803 0.35% N/A
Prohibition Herbert B. Wood 175 0.07% N/A
Total votes 229,828 100.00% N/A
Democratic gain from Republican

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Moritz, Charles, ed. (1987). Current Biography Yearbook 1987. New York: H. W. Wilson Company., p. 43.
  2. ^ Broder, John M. (October 23, 2008). "Father's Tough Life an Inspiration for Biden". The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Naylor, Brian (October 8, 2007). "Biden's Road to Senate Took Tragic Turn". NPR. Retrieved September 12, 2008.
  4. ^ Barone, Michael; Cohen, Richard E. (2008). The Almanac of American Politics. Washington: National Journal Group. ISBN 978-0-89234-117-7., p. 364.
  5. ^ https://www.amazon.com/Heard-You-Paint-Houses-Irishman/dp/1586422383
  6. ^ Henry I. Miller (August 17, 2012). "Henry Miller: Biden's unhinged, and worse, history". Orange County Register. In the fascinating biography of Teamsters and Mafia hit-man Frank Sheeran, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the lifelong thug describes a favor he performed while he was president of Teamsters Local 326 in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1972 Sheeran received a visit from “a very prominent lawyer” he knew who was “very big in the Democratic Party” in Delaware. The November general election was approaching, and the race for the U.S. Senate seat held by a Republican was expected to be close. The lawyer wanted help in preventing the distribution of a paid Republican political ad – an insert in the Delaware-wide newspapers – that would run for a week and expose the campaign misrepresentations by the Democratic challenger. Sheeran promised the operative that he “would hire some people and put them on the picket line.” He added, “People nobody would mess with.” The picket line went up, the papers were not delivered all week, and, as Sheeran said, “The day after the election the informational picket line came down, and the newspaper went back to normal and Delaware had a new United States Senator.” His name was Joe Biden. Thereafter, said admitted extortionist, thief and murderer Sheeran, of Biden, “You could reach out for him, and he would listen.”
  7. ^ "U.S. Senate: Youngest Senator".
  8. ^ http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/1972election.pdf