COLUMBUS — At 76, former Vice President Joe Biden is a favorite political uncle to many Democrats.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Uncle Joe will emerge as the Democrats’ favorite candidate to take on Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.

Recent complaints from several women about Biden’s touchy-feely style suggest that he might be out of touch with a political era defined by the #MeToo Movement. Fist bumps are in, and Biden’s hugs, nose rubs, kisses and hair-smelling are out.

No age limit prevents Biden from seeking the presidency, but he turns 77 on Nov. 20. That’s how old Republican President Ronald Reagan was when he left office in 1989. By then Reagan already had become the oldest person to win the presidency when he captured a second term in 1984 at 73.

Seventy-seven is also the birthday that three of Ohio’s longest-serving and most successful politicians celebrated in the years they decided whether to leave politics or try to keep on going.

Democrats Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn retired from the U.S. Senate and left with accolades from both sides of the aisle. Republican James A. Rhodes tried for a fifth term as governor and embarrassed himself in a losing effort by gay bashing and even hinting that Democratic Gov. Richard F. Celeste and Celeste’s then wife Dagmar were Nazi sympathizers.

Glenn’s decision to leave office after four terms in the Senate was clear-cut. The astronaut and Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea was on to other things even before his fourth term ended in 1999. In 1962, he had become the first American to orbit the earth. On Oct. 29, 1998, he became the oldest man to fly in space when he joined the crew of the Discovery space shuttle.

After returning to earth and finishing his Senate term, Glenn devoted much of his time to building what has become the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State. It focuses on building leadership and inspiring public service. My last of many interviews with Glenn was in his office at Ohio State where he was, of course, accompanied by his wife Annie.

John and Annie Glenn, childhood sweethearts, also spent lots of time together after he left office. Glenn died at 95 in 2016.

Metzenbaum wasn’t as enthusiastic about retiring after being elected to three Senate terms. He told me he was ready to try for another six years. His wife Shirley, however, wanted him to leave and she prevailed, Metzenbaum said. The understated Glenn and the bombastic Metzenbaum had contrasting styles, but both were devoted husbands.

Metzenbaum also wanted to pave the way for his son-in-law Joel Hyatt to seek the Senate seat. Hyatt won the Democratic nomination in 1994 but lost to Republican Mike DeWine, now the Ohio governor, in the general election.

Like Glenn, Metzenbaum kept busy after leaving office in 1995. He became chairman of Consumer Federation of America. That gave him a platform to continue his Senate crusades on behalf of consumers and against abuses by big business.

Metzenbaum died at 90 in 2008.

While Glenn was ready to leave office and Metzenbaum was OK with it, James A. Rhodes in 1986 wanted no part of the political sidelines. The conventional wisdom was that if Rhodes was breathing, then he was running for office.

By 1986, he already had served as governor for two consecutive terms from 1963 to 1971 and from 1975 to 1983. Rhodes undoubtedly would have sought a third term each time, but the Ohio Constitution limits governors to two consecutive terms.

A Rhodes-friendly state Supreme Court had ruled that it was OK to sit out a term and run again after four years.

That’s what Rhodes did in 1986, much to the dismay of some Republicans who thought it was time for a younger candidate. Ohio Senate President Paul Gillmor and state Sen. Paul Pfeifer, however, split the anti-Rhodes vote in the GOP primary, and Rhodes won the right to take on Democratic incumbent Celeste.

As the incumbent, Rhodes had defeated Celeste in 1978. The second time around Rhodes was no match for Celeste who outspent Rhodes 2-to-1 and won with 69 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Rhodes.

Rhodes was no sore loser and didn’t hold grudges. He returned to the private sector to work on economic development, played golf and spent time with his family. When he died at 91 in 2001, the ill-advised campaign for a fifth term seemed all but forgotten as he drew praise from Republicans and Democrats.

Meanwhile, if Biden, as expected, decides to enter the 2020 race he wouldn’t be the oldest candidate seeking the Democratic nomination. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 77, is already on the campaign trail.

Sanders established a strong rapport with youthful supporters in his unsuccessful 2016 campaign. Maybe he could give Biden some tips on fist bumping.

 

Hershey is a former Washington correspondent and Columbus bureau chief for the Beacon Journal. He can be reached at hershey_william@hotmail.com.