Joe Biden’s candidacy and lockdown-enforced curbs on traditional campaigning have put the small state of Delaware centre stage in the former vice-president’s bid to wrest the keys to the White House from President Donald Trump.
Although it only has three votes in the electoral college and it takes only a little more than an hour and a half to drive through it from Pennsylvania to Maryland, the state has been given a starring role with Mr Biden forced to conduct much of his campaign from his home.
Mr Biden announced California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate this past week in Wilmington and they made their public debut at the suburban high school where Mr Biden votes.
The campaign then operated for three days from the opulent Hotel DuPont, where Mr Biden had announced his first run for Senate, for the 1972 race.
In a ballroom converted to a makeshift web studio, Mr Biden and Ms Harris held video conferences with health and economic advisers and signed documents to formally become the Democratic presidential ticket.
“We’ve never had a campaign like this, where essentially he’s probably going to be campaigning from Wilmington because of Covid-19,” said John Flaherty, a Delaware open-government advocate who worked as a staff assistant for Mr Biden in his Senate office in Wilmington from 1978 to 1995.
“It’s going to be a learning curve for all of us as to how you campaign for national office and you can’t be close to people.”
There has never been an American president from Delaware, though Rutherford B. Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio. The spotlight on Delaware could be even brighter if Mr Biden is elected.
In addition to his Wilmington home, his family has a beach house in Rehoboth Beach, which could become a summer retreat on par with George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas or Mr Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Mr Biden’s presence so far has not caused much of a stir, partly because many people are still working from home or otherwise avoiding going out. Waiting at a bus stop near the Hotel DuPont, Cara Davis, a 23-year-old shop employee, had no idea the political circus was in town.
“I think it’s a bit of a mess,” she said of November’s election.
She added, however, that she once waited on Mr Biden’s daughter, Ashley, while working at a department store make-up counter, and plans to vote for Mr Biden because not doing so “is like a vote for Trump”.
Parked police cruisers and shipping containers blocked traffic by the hotel entrance where Mr Biden comes and goes.
Police patrolled on foot and Segway with Secret Service agents at the door.
TV cameras commandeered the pavement across the street, and tents protected reporters from the frequent rains during live broadcasts.
Inside the hotel, police dogs helped screen bags in the lobby, the normally bustling food court was shuttered and the stately Green Room Bar had been converted into a holding area for journalists who cleared Secret Service security and awaited events with Mr Biden. Having Mr Biden is town has reverberated beyond the hotel walls.
“It’s wonderful to have him back around,” said August Muzzi, owner of Angelo’s Luncheonette, a Wilmington fixture since his father, Angelo, first opened it in 1967.
There is a framed placard advertising Mr Biden’s announcement of his first campaign for president in June 1987 and a 2012 letter to Mr Muzzi signed by the then-vice president. As they grew up, Mr Biden’s sons, Beau and Hunter, often had breakfast at the restaurant on Saturday mornings, usually occupying the third booth from the door.
Mayor Mike Purzycki said Wilmington got a healthy dose of attention during Mr Biden’s frequent trips back home as vice president.
“There was an awful lot of vice president stuff going on around here …. a lot of big, black Tahoes driving around,” Mr Purzycki said.
“We’re used to the Secret Service.
“We adapt more to the roadblocks than most people would.”
Mr Biden spent decades riding Amtrak on commutes between Washington and Delaware.
The railway station in Wilmington now bears his name.
He once took President Barack Obama to a well-known Wilmington diner, the Charcoal Pit, and Mr Biden hit Gianni’s Pizza after announcing his latest presidential run last year. On the city’s east side is a pool where he once served as a lifeguard. It was renamed the Joseph R. Biden Aquatic Centre in 2017.
Mr Purzycki does not expect a lot of Biden public sightings, even though the Chase Centre on Wilmington’s riverfront will command the spotlight at the upcoming virtual Democratic National Convention.
“He’s so bottled up right now, for a whole variety of reasons,” said Mr Purzycki, an American football star at the University of Delaware in the 1960s who lived in the same dorm as Mr Biden. It seems Mr Biden’s time as a running back for the school did not go as well.
“He always looked like he was going on a job interview,” Mr Purzycki recalled.
“I remember thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’”
Mr Biden, known for his hands-on style of politicking, spent months at his lakeside home in Greenville during the early stages of the pandemic, so much so that Mr Trump’s campaign branded him “hidin’ Biden”.
But Mr Biden has more recently been giving speeches and holding small, socially distanced meetings with voters in places an easy drive from his front door, including Philadelphia, about 45 minutes away.
Normally, running mate unveilings are done in battleground states. But being home has allowed Mr Biden to reconnect with his roots. Campaign spokesman Michael Gwin said Mr Biden was “honoured” to make the Kamala Harris announcement in Wilmington.
“Whether you’re a Democratic or a Republican, whether you like Biden or not, I think people are just very proud that somebody from Delaware is running for president,” said Mr Flaherty, Mr Biden’s former staff assistant.
“He has been able to navigate all the political shoals out there, and now it looks like he’s going to have an even shot at the presidency.”