Is there such thing as a Joe Biden superfan?

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Andrew Shaffer once thought of himself as a Joe Biden superfan. He bought aviator sunglasses just like Joe's, collected Biden action figures, wore Biden hoodies, knew the arcana of Biden's personal and political life, and set out to write a noir novel starring a character named Joe Biden. He thought of Biden as a "cool uncle" who might offer a spin in his Corvette or treat for ice cream.

Then Biden became president, and Shaffer lost his zeal for Joe. What had made Biden so compelling - falling painfully short of achieving his ultimate political goal - vanished once he made it to the White House. "All of a sudden he went from being the fun uncle to dad," Shaffer, 43, said recently from his Louisville, Ky., home. "Everyone always prefers the fun uncle." He isn't even sure if he would support Biden for re-election.

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A hallmark (or pathology, depending on your perspective) of contemporary American politics is the outsize presence of the superfan - specifically the hat-wearing, boat-parading, election-denying and Capitol-storming followers of Donald Trump, who only became more zealous once he won the presidency (and especially after he lost it). Most recently, a crowd of Trump superfans assembled outside Mar-a-Lago to proclaim their undying devotion to the former president after the FBI searched his residence on suspicion that he had improperly taken classified documents from the White House.

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Joe Biden inspires no such idolatry. Yes, there are Democrats sharing "Dark Brandon" memes (a Biden-inspired comic villain appropriated from the right) on social media, but not many are bedecking their homes with "Biden 2024" flags or insisting that he's some kind of savior. Most Democratic candidates now running in midterm races aren't exactly inundating the president with invitations to campaign with them. And, according to polls conducted earlier this summer, Democrats are ambivalent about whether they even want Biden to be their party's nominee in two years. Yes, a string of legislative victories may have boosted Biden's approval ratings. But Biden's fans, unlike Trump's, seem far less likely to landscape his name in large letters across acres of farmland or erect a 14-foot steel cutout of his likeness on their lawn.

All of which raises the question: Where are Joe Biden's superfans? Are they out there?



... Hello?

"We don't like to stand out and be noticed," says James Bento, 32, a lab technician in Albuquerque who owns a fly swatter sold by the Biden-Harris campaign and two kitchen magnets, one of which says "No Malarkey" and the other in the shape of an ice cream cone emblazoned with the president's name. Bento was in college when he fell for Biden. The moment, he says, may have been when a hot mic caught Biden murmuring to President Barack Obama that the Affordable Care Act was a "big f—ing deal." "I thought, 'This guy is great,' " Bento says. But he cautions that passionate Biden followers - because they can be moderate, like their man - tend to express their appreciation quietly.

"The ones who are against him are loud and obnoxious," Cathy Woerner says. "The ones who like him are more polite."

Woerner is a clerk at the information desk at the Biden Welcome Center on I-95 in Delaware, where handouts invite those so inclined to "Visit Northern Delaware, Walk in the Footsteps of President Biden." ("Walt's Flavor Crisp Chicken Express" is where the Bidens purportedly go when they need a "fried chicken fix," the handout advises.) Sometimes, Woerner says, when she answers the phone at work, she has listened to complaints about gas prices and had to explain to callers that they have reached a rest stop, not the president's office. At other times, people stand at her counter and recite their grievances to her face. "I say, 'I don't work for Biden, it's not my fault,' " Woerner says.

Of course, there are Biden supporters who make more of a to-do about their affection. Amanda Linton, who lives in Virginia, named her dog after Biden. Her friend in South Carolina, Lisa Izzo, 55, made cookies in the shape of letters that spell out Biden's name. One year, she placed next to her Christmas tree a life-size cutout of Biden in a Santa hat. When she cheered Biden's entry in the 2020 race, Izzo said, a couple of her friends "were looking at me like I had three heads, like, 'Oh my God, you're crazy.' And I said, 'Yeah, I'm Biden all the way.' "

A "Biden 2020" flag hangs outside Charles Alvarado's Fort Meade, Colo., house. There are two more in his bedroom, plus Biden magnets on his fridge and car. Alvarado, 29, a security officer, is an administrator of a 14,000-member Facebook page called "Joe Biden Patriots." Once, while shopping at Walmart, a man cursed him for wearing a Biden hat. "What do you see in him?" he remembers another shopper asking. "His charisma," Alvarado says he responded. "I love the way he talks. I feel like he's actually talking to me."

Until he became Obama's vice president, the twice-failed presidential candidate was not known as a magnet for superfans, at least not beyond Delaware. But after becoming Obama's No. 2, Biden's standing with smitten Democrats benefited from his proximity to the country's first Black president.

"I was a superfan of the dynamic duo," Adam Reid says.

Reid, a Maplewood, N.J.-based writer and filmmaker, published a graphic novel titled, "The Adventures of Barry and Joe" - an account of the dynamic duo's "bromantic battle for the soul of America." The plot features time travel, a character based on the actor Samuel L. Jackson, and, of course, Barry and Joe "striving to right injustice wherever they find it."

Reid came up with the idea in a fit of nostalgia, after Obama left office. Like Shaffer, the recovering Biden superfan in Louisville, Reid said his enthusiasm has waned - though he attributed his changing sentiment not so much to Biden but to politics seeming less urgent after he ousted Trump. "He was the right man for right now," Reid said of Biden. "I can't say I want him to run again."

Shaffer's literary ambitions also ran smack into the fact that Biden's fan appeal, such as it is, seems to be tied to his role as Obama's sidekick. His idea for a Biden-focused noir novel was rejected, but he did find publishing success teaming Obama and Biden in "Hope Never Dies," a 2018 bestseller in which "two of America's greatest heroes" delve into the "darkest depths of Delaware" to "uncover the sinister forces advancing America's opioid epidemic."

The book, which he dedicated to "Uncle Joe" and which features on its cover an artist's rendering of Obama and Biden in a car together, racing toward danger, led to a sequel ("Hope Rides Again"). Shaffer says his plan to feature Biden in a third installment was nixed by a publisher, whom he remembers being interested in a more beloved politician - say, one who had just been memed around the globe for wearing mittens at Biden's inauguration. That's how Shaffer ended up writing "Feel the Bern: A Bernie Sanders Mystery," slated for a December release. (His pitch for "Hillary Clinton: Pet Detective" was rejected. "Everybody hated it," he said.)

Lauren Waksman, who was a teenager during the Obama presidency, was so drawn to Vice President Biden that she knew his favorite ice cream (chocolate chip), the name of his German shepherd (Champ), the names of Biden's grandchildren, and related to the ups and downs of his personal life when she read his autobiography. She and a friend even got to meet Biden after a 2013 appearance at a college in Pennsylvania. "He was so homey and welcoming," Waksman, who lives outside Philadelphia, recalled in a telephone interview. "He asked us where we were in school and what we were studying and how our families were. We were head over heels. I adored him."

But Waksman, now 28, says she no longer feels especially drawn to Biden - or any politician, for that matter. "After Trump was elected, I said, 'Hey, this isn't for me anymore. I don't think I can handle this,' " said Waksman, who works as a delivery driver. No one in politics is inspiring her these days the way Biden once did, she said.

Celia McAllister Sandbloom is more hopeful, which is why she showed up at a rally the president hosted in Rockville, Md., the other day in a "Biden Harris" T-shirt. But no one should interpret her choice of fashion as a sign of her enthusiasm for the 46th president.

"I'm a moderate fan," said Sandbloom, 57, a teacher who lives in Bethesda, choosing her words carefully. She wanted to sound supportive. "Obama had so much personal charisma. Joe was always his wingman. He's an excellent wingman. And he's doing a fine job. No complaints."

If Biden's fans are largely measured in their support, those who most visibly follow Trump tend toward the worshipful. There are Trump followers so dedicated to the former president that they are being prosecuted by the hundreds for mobbing the U.S. Capitol. Fealty to Trump is practically a requirement for Republicans seeking elective office. Even hardcore conservatives have been chased out of the party for daring to question him. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., predicted that "there'll be riots in the streets" if Trump faces prosecution.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University history professor who studies dictators, says Biden is unlikely to attract a mass following of "die-hard fans" because his sober style represents a return to political normality after Trump. "It's more healthy," says Ben-Ghiat. "Normality is good."

At the same time, she says, Democrats can learn from Republicans and "field candidates who are charismatic," and who "sweep people off their feet and make them dream." "We need that," the professor said. "But not in an authoritarian way."

In Scranton, Pa., where Biden spent the first 10 years of his life, there are the signs of hometown pride for the president. A main downtown drag has been renamed Biden Street. Every day, visitors stop to photograph his childhood home. Down the street, Chris Cullen nailed his "Biden for President" sign over his front door to remind doubters that he won in a "fair and free election." At Hank's Hoagies, a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop around the corner from Biden's old house, owner Tom Owens keeps a trove of memorabilia, including campaign signs, figurines, photos of his visits, and a life-size cutout of Joe at the entrance. On a counter sat a framed needlepoint portrait of Biden that someone had recently delivered.

Angie Budney, 66, who stopped to pick up her hoagie, keeps photos on her phone of herself posing with the Joe cutout at Hank's, along with snapshots of her and her friends protesting when Trump visited Scranton. "I guess I'm a superfan," Budney says of her attachment to the president.

Then she added: "You know what? Let's just call me a fan. I have other things in my life."


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