November 3, 2008 / 6:04 PM / 10 years ago

Jill Biden, teacher who avoids 'Washington scene'

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (Reuters) - For three decades, Jill Biden has avoided being part of what she calls the “Washington scene” but that may be harder after Tuesday if Barack Obama wins and her husband becomes vice president.

Jill Biden has a low media profile outside Delaware, where her husband, Joe Biden, has been a senator since 1972 and where she is involved in various health and education charities.

She is superstitious about predicting what kind of a role she might play as wife of the vice president if Obama wins and is not even sure whether she would give up her job at a community college in Delaware where she teaches English.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” she said in an interview with Reuters. “I think I would continue to do what I have always done, win or lose. I am an educator.”

When her husband became Obama’s running mate in August, Jill Biden, 57, stuck to her schedule of teaching and joins her husband only on weekends to campaign.

Between stops, she grades papers on the bus as it rolls through battleground states and prepares for the “Jill and Joe show” when she introduces him at rallies.

Elegantly dressed and slim — she runs five miles many days — Jill Biden has an easy presence on stage. Her husband calls her “drop dead gorgeous” and jokingly says he “married up.”

“Joe Biden is a man who loves his country, his family and gets things done,” she always tells supporters at rallies.”

A hush falls over the crowd when she recalls how Biden lost his first wife, Neilia, and their baby daughter in a car accident in 1972, soon after he won his U.S. Senate seat.

He nearly gave up his political career to care for his sons, who were injured in the crash, but Sen. Ted Kennedy and others convinced him to take up his seat, she says.

“He said Delaware could get another senator but his sons could not get another father.”

When she met him, he was taking a train daily to Washington and returning home so he could be with his children when they woke up and went to bed. He still makes that commute and they have never moved to Washington.

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She said Biden asked her five times before she agreed to marry him.

“He had two sons. I had grown up with four sisters. It was everything — Joe’s career, the state of Delaware, it was a little intimidating,” she said.

She sees the campaign as a “family business,” with son Hunter and daughter Ashley often on the campaign bus along with grandchildren and other relatives. Their other son Beau is in military training to go to Iraq.

Jill Biden is known on the campaign as a prankster. On Halloween, she put a plastic rat on the podium when her husband spoke at a rally. The rat reappeared on his pillow that night along with a picture of a dog he wants if he wins on Tuesday.

“Things are so serious that I like to add a little humor,” she says.

If she comes across an interesting quote in a paper or magazine, she cuts it out and tapes it onto the bathroom mirror for her husband to see when he shaves. The latest was from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Biden is criticized for political gaffes, being too wordy and emotional, attributes Jill Biden says can be a plus.

“I think it is a strength that he says what is on his mind. You don’t have to second guess how he feels,” she said. “He does not give the sound-bite answer.”

She does not like the “negative” tone of the McCain campaign and steers clear of criticizing her husband’s Republican counterpart, Sarah Palin, particularly when asked about the Alaska governor’s $150,000 clothing budget.

“I buy my own clothes. I have a teacher’s salary.”

But she is impressed with Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, someone she would like to go out for lunch with after the campaign is over.

“I think the energy of this campaign has been great. Win or lose, this has truly been an adventure,” she said.

Editing by Doina Chiacu

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