WILMINGTON, Del. — It was probably one of the lowest points of Biden’s campaign, and everyone was exhausted.
After a humbling fourth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses and an overnight flight to New Hampshire — where things didn’t promise to go much better — the only thing standing in the way of some desperately-needed sleep for the Biden campaign, his traveling press corps, and of course, Joe Biden himself, was the rope line after his second and final stop of the day, a small town hall meeting at a union hall in Concord.
And then Joe met Brayden.
Owen Harrington brought his son to the event, hoping to provide his son with an important life lesson: this man who fought a stutter in his childhood went on to become the Vice President of the United States, and perhaps soon president. And because it’s New Hampshire, Brayden Harrington, then 12, not only got to hear him speak, but meet him after the event finished.
It wasn’t a big crowd, and Biden’s staff hoped to hurry him along the rope line and bring the long two days to a close. But the conversation wouldn’t end quickly once Owen Harrington introduced his son to Biden.
“We’re here because he stutters, he wanted to hear you speak," Owen told Biden.
Biden hugged him, then leaned in close.
“Don’t let it define you,” he told him. "You are smart as hell. No, you really are. You can do this.”
Then Biden asked for his phone number.
“I can tell you what I used to do, and how I would do it,” he said, adding that he stays in touch with more than two dozen stutterers.
“It took a lot of practice, but I promise you. I promise you, you can do it,” Biden said, hugging Brayden at this point. Biden channeled his mother, offering the same confidence she would when he struggled to speak. “You’re handsome. You’re smart. You’re a good guy. I really mean it.”
Biden held his hand as the boy started crying at hearing about their shared stuttering experience.
“I know about bullies. You know about bullies — the kids who make fun. It’s going to change, honey. I promise you,” Biden said.
As the minutes ticked by, Biden’s body man urged him to continue on to greet the remaining voters and call it a day. Instead, Biden invited the Harringtons backstage so they could spend more time together.
Reporters, who waited for Biden for more than 45 minutes on the rope line, relocated outdoors in the below freezing temperatures wondering why the candidate was departing much later than usual.
“He had nothing but time,” one aide recalled.
No Biden staff can say much more about that conversation, because for more than a half hour it was just the three of them, alone in the kitchen of a union hall while the rest of that small crowd and reporters waited for a chance to ask him more questions.
"He told me we were members of the same club,” Brayden shared as he spoke to the nation on Thursday night. "He showed me how he marks his addresses to make them easier to say out loud. So, I did the same thing today."
That meeting wasn’t the end of their time together in New Hampshire.
Biden’s staff, at his direction, asked the Harringtons to try and find time so they could join him again before the Feb. 11 primary so they could talk further. That opportunity came almost a week later at a morning stop in Gilford. Finishing his half-hour of remarks, Biden singled Brayden out in the crowd, crediting him for having more "courage and decency in his pinky finger than Trump has in his whole body.”
Biden also discussed the advice he gave Brayden during a CNN town hall that week, how he worked to overcome his stutter in a similar manner to King George VI, made famous in "The King's Speech” — marking up his speeches with slashes to break up the words and sounds.
“The point I make though to these young people that I still work with is that, in fact, it's critically important for them not to judge themselves by their speech. To not let that define them,” he said. “I still occasionally, when I find myself really tired, catch myself saying something like that. It has nothing to do with your intelligence quotient, it has nothing too with your intellectual makeup.”
As Brayden shared Thursday night, that conversation offered more time for him to share his tips for combating the stutter. He showed him a book of poetry similar to the one Biden used to read from in the mirror as he fought the stutter.
Without ever making an explicit connection, the Biden campaign offered a powerful contrast to President Donald Trump, who has mocked people with disabilities and in their view can’t come close to Biden's “superpower” of empathy and compassion.
"When he was a little boy, he couldn't string more than three words together at a time,” Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, told NBC News this week in an exclusive interview. "But he was not gonna be defined by a bully. And he built a backbone of steel. And he's not gonna be defined by this bully. And he's not gonna let any little boy or girl who stutter or don't look like anybody else, or hold different values, he's not gonna let them be bullied, either."
Biden ended the most important speech of his political life quoting one of those poets whose words he used to practice with.
“The Irish poet Seamus once wrote, ‘History says don't hope on this side of the grave but then once in a lifetime the long tidal wave of justice can hope and history rhyme.’ This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme, with passion and purpose,” Biden said.