When are the 20-plus Democratic presidential candidates going to come to North Carolina?

We are suffering from their absence as they concentrate on the early primary and caucus states. “Suffering” is my term. Others may count their absence as a blessing.

Joe Biden has already been here, as I explained in an earlier column I wrote in 2008 when Biden became Barack Obama’s choice for running mate.

Here is the gist of what I wrote back then.

I am responsible, at least in part, for one of Biden’s early political visits to our state more than 30 years ago.

Back in 1986, I was the Democratic candidate for Congress in a district that had been represented by Republicans for many years. The race was close. Lots of senators and members of Congress came to campaign with me. I loved hobnobbing with famous political personages such as Jim Wright, Claude Pepper and Charles Rangel — and future presidential candidates Bill Bradley, Dick Gephardt and Gary Hart. But these visits often drove our campaign volunteers crazy trying to figure out how to readjust our schedule, develop an “appropriate” program for the visitor and gather respectable crowds to greet them.

One of these visitors was Joe Biden. His staff gave our campaign scheduler Marcia Webster only a day or two to prepare. She called some of the loyal supporters who never said “no” even to the most challenging requests.

One of these, Brenda Barger, remembers that she and her husband, Hugh, hosted a small group at their farm near Davidson. Davidson mayor Russell Knox and College Union director Shaw Smith came to meet Biden and hear him tell about a run for president — some day.

Amy Steele, whose ability to organize campaign operations was unexcelled, took on the task of gathering a group of supporters to meet Biden in Statesville. She got a young couple, David and Sally Parker, to host an event.

But, as Sally Parker remembers now, they had planned a trip with their children that day to Carowinds in Charlotte, leaving Amy and her crew to prepare. Sally says, “Amy had a magic wand.” When the Parkers returned and Biden arrived, their home and garden were full of fresh flowers and a big crowd.

Biden was charmed. So were the Parkers. Sally remembers being impressed with Biden’s speech. “Except,” she told me, “although everybody wore big red buttons that said ‘DG’ he kept calling you ‘DJ.’”

Later, Sally quizzed Biden about his views on capital punishment. She remembers his thoughtful listening and response to her concerns. Biden was a hit with the Parkers. Amy and David got Sally to pose for a photo sitting on Biden’s knee to remember his visit.

Our campaign manager Henry Doss remembers Biden’s visit to campaign headquarters where Elizabeth, Doss’s 5-year-old daughter, was visiting and drawing a picture of a red dog. She told Biden a story about that dog. “For that moment,” Doss recalls, “he was really interested in what Elizabeth was telling him and giving her his full attention. I think one of Biden’s greatest strengths is his ability to engage from moment to moment. This builds on his authenticity. He is what he is, and that’s what makes him powerful. I’ve always been in awe of his grasp of world affairs, and his comfort level around power. But his encounter with Elizabeth illustrates his rare ability and desire to connect with people. Maybe he even learned something about the red dog.”

When Biden comes back to our state to campaign he will find some North Carolinians who still remember him well.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch.”

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