Cale Boggs: The Man Biden Had to Beat

One of the major figures of Delaware’s history post-World War II was James Caleb Boggs (1909-1993), who went by “Cale”. Running as a war vet and with a Republican wave, he was elected to Congress in 1946. During the Truman years, Boggs voted as a conservative and even opposed the Truman Doctrine in his first year. He, like fellow Republican John J. Williams, staunchly opposed price and rent controls and consistently voted to weaken and end them. However, Boggs also was supportive of the Far Eastern Assistance Act in 1950 and voted for a mandatory Fair Employment Practices Committee. The latter vote would presage his unwavering support of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. In 1952, Boggs opposed the creation and funding of the Cox Committee to investigate tax-exempt institutions. His MC-Index score during his House years was an 85%, or solid conservative. That year, he was elected Delaware’s governor.

Presiding Over Turbulent Times

When Boggs was elected to the governorship in 1952, by four points, Delaware was a segregated state. However, in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education gave the impetus for desegregation in the state. Boggs would successfully and peacefully preside over the state’s desegregation, an issue that was nonetheless controversial in the state. In his 1956 election he prevailed again by four points, his handling of the issue of desegregation not really winning or losing anyone. In 1960, Boggs decided to jump from the governorship to the Senate, running against incumbent Democrat J. Allen Frear Jr., one of the more conservative people in the party. He prevailed by a little over a point despite losing in Democratic stronghold Kent County and Republican stronghold Sussex County, with his numbers in New Castle making up for his losses.

High Times: Boggs as Senator

Cale Boggs proved an exceedingly popular senator and stood as a moderate. Civil rights advocates worked with him given his strong support of civil rights legislation. His reaction to the Great Society was overall mixed, most notably he voted for Medicare but voted against the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. Boggs voted for a school prayer amendment to the Constitution in 1966 to undo the Supreme Court decision Engel v. Vitale (1962) but twice voted against an amendment meant to undo the Supreme Court decision Reynolds v. Sims (1964), which required that state legislative districts be apportioned on no grounds other than rough equality in population, being one of only three Republican senators to do so. Delaware voters proved their appreciation for his moderation, and he won reelection in 1966 by 18 points, winning all three of Delaware’s counties.

Among other things, Boggs was also strongly supportive of environmental legislation, having sponsored the Water Quality Act in 1965. He remained strongly supportive of civil rights measures in the 1970s, voting to defend busing. Although he had been a critic of economic controls as a member of the House, Boggs proved supportive of strong minimum wage legislation, voting against Minority Leader Dirksen’s (R-Ill.) amendment in 1966 exempting small retailers from coverage and against Senator Taft’s (R-Ohio) amendment in 1972 reducing the increase and limiting coverage. However, Boggs was not supportive of certain measures to expand voter registration, such as registration by postcard. He also supported the Nixon Administration’s policies on the Vietnam War.

Enter Biden

By 1972, Boggs had tired of public office, but President Nixon, wanting to keep Boggs’ seat Republican by avoiding a potentially bruising primary fight, convinced him to run for a third term. When young attorney Joe Biden entered the race, it was initially thought that Boggs was unbeatable. Initial polls put Boggs way ahead of Biden, but the newbie ran an energetic campaign and decided that instead of using Boggs’ record against him as his moderation proved popular, he ran against him on age. Boggs was 63 years old while Biden was just shy of 30, and some examples of Biden’s ads against Boggs included:

“To Cale Boggs an unfair tax was the 1948 poll tax”; “To Joe Biden an unfair tax is the 1972 income tax.”

“Cale Boggs’ generation dreamed of conquering polio. Joe Biden’s generation dreams of conquering heroin. Joe Biden. He understands what’s happening today.”

“In 1950 Cale Boggs hoped to make Americans safe from Stalin. In 1972 Joe Biden hopes to make Americans safe from criminals. We’ve got a new crime problem in this country. We need some new thinking” (Erickson).

Boggs lost by 1.5% and only won Sussex County, which to this day remains the state’s Republican stronghold. His MC-Index score for his Senate time was a 60%, or moderate. His lifetime score was 68%, or moderate conservative.


1972 ADA Voting Record. (1972). Americans for Democratic Action.

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Click to access 1972.pdf

ADA World. (1950). Americans for Democratic Action.

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ADA World. (1951). Americans for Democratic Action.

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ADA World. (1952). Americans for Democratic Action.

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ADA World 1966. (1966). Americans for Democratic Action.

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Erickson, B. (2019, June 4). When a young Joe Biden used his opponent’s age against him. CBS News.

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