SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Before he was the “L” in BMWL, the successful political consulting firm based in Oakland, Sam Lauter was an intern for then-Delaware Senator Joe Biden.
In 1986, Lauter had just graduated from Berkeley when he trekked to Washington, D.C. to work for Biden. “There were five or six of us on the staff who were fresh out of college; all great colleges, had great political resumes,” he recalled. Biden’s staff “brought us into a room and said, ‘Do any of you drive an American car?’ and I was the only person who raised my hand, so they said, ‘Okay, you’re his personal aide.’”
Lauter learned that the job required him to accompany Biden everywhere he went and drive the senator in Lauter’s own car, which was a black Jeep CJ7. He laughed as he explained, “I drove him around in a Jeep. Actually the Jeep got written up in the Washington Post style section because people thought it was very funny that Joe Biden was being driven around in a Jeep. But I was 22. That’s what I had.”
Being with Biden all day, every day, meant always being late. Biden couldn’t resist stopping to talk to people. “The joke in the office was that I learned how to get to the airport on time, leaving five minutes after the plane left,” said Lauter.
He also got to see Biden behind the scenes and says the persona of friendly “Uncle Joe” or “Papa Joe” is genuine.
“This is not make believe,” said Lauter. “This is not ‘Okay, it’s time to turn it and now I get to turn it off.’ That’s who Joe Biden is all the time.”
Over the years, Biden has made a number of trips to the Bay Area. While running for President in 1987, he gave the commencement speech at the University of San Francisco Law School. The San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time that Biden said, “I’m sure sure when you heard I was speaking here, many of you asked, ‘Who in God’s name is Joe Biden?’”
Biden dropped out of the presidential race in September 1987 after he was caught plagiarizing a speech from British MP Neil Kinnock. On October 2, 1987, Herb Caen wrote, “A Bloom’s saloon on Potrero Hill, Tom Frenkel passed along the scooplet that Joe Biden is quitting politics to open a string of S.F. eateries called Unoriginal Joe’s (3-sec. laff-trak).”
In 2007 when Biden was considering another run for president, he came to San Francisco and sat down with the Chronicle’s editorial board. Lauter was in the room. “He was asked, ‘What happens if Hillary Clinton gets in the race?’ He goes, ‘Oh, I love Hillary Clinton. She’s amazing. She’d be the front-runner automatically. I might even endorse her.’ And a reporter followed up, ‘So you wouldn’t run?’ [Biden replied] ‘Oh no, I’d still run.’ At which point his aide has his head buried in his hands and I’m just laughing. Because that was just Joe.”
Biden did run for the Democratic party nomination in the 2008 election – against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – although he dropped out of the race in January 2008 after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses.
Lauter says Biden is in the race for the long haul this time. And, while there are a number of Democratic candidates that could beat President Trump, Lauter says, “For me Joe Biden is the one person I am sure can beat Donald Trump.”