Mar 1, 2023 - Politics & Policy

How Jimmy Carter and Joe Biden built an enduring friendship

Jimmy Carter whispers to Joe Biden

Then-Senator Joseph Biden points out someone in the crowd to President Jimmy Carter during a 1978 fundraiser for Biden in Wilmington. Photo: Getty Images

In 1976, the first presidential endorsement that then-Gov. Jimmy Carter got from an elected official outside of Georgia came from a young Sen. Joe Biden.

Why it matters: The two Democrats saw in each other a kindred spirit and political ally, and they maintained a long friendship in the decades since.

Zoom in: Biden and Carter bonded over always being "underestimated" and not being members of the Washington "establishment," former top Carter advisor Gerald Rafshoon told Axios in an interview.

  • Plus, Rafshoon said, "you can't pigeonhole either one of them as being conservative or liberal. They're moderates, at least in my opinion. They see eye-to-eye on things."

The big picture: While at times Republicans have sought to compare President Biden's term to former President Carter's given their fights against inflation, what's clear is that the two men have been enduring friends.

  • In an endorsement message for Biden in 2020, Carter called him his "first and most effective supporter in the Senate" and said "my loyal and dedicated friend."
  • Carter phoned Biden the day before his 2021 inauguration to wish him well, as he wasn't able to make the trip to Washington.

What he's saying: In a video tribute to Carter in the 2021 documentary "Carterland," Biden recalled traveling to Wisconsin in 1976 to make his endorsement.

  • "Some of my colleagues in the Senate thought it was youthful exuberance on my part. Well I was exuberant," Biden recalled.
  • "As I said then: 'Jimmy's not just a bright smile. He can win and he can appeal to more segments of the population than any other person.'"
  • "All those years ago, Governor Carter proved me right. And in the years since, President Carter did a lot more than that. He showed us throughout his entire life what it means to be a public servant. With emphasis on the word servant."

After promising to visit Carter in early 2021, Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Plains, Georgia, in April of that year and spent an hour with the Carters at their home.

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