Biden and Carter rekindle a long friendship in Plains

President Joe Biden reconnected with Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in the southwest Georgia town of Plains on Thursday as they rekindled a fruitful political friendship that stretches back decades.

The two friends met for roughly 45 minutes in Carter’s house in Plains, putting a bow on a relationship that stemmed from a young senator taking a chance that a peanut farmer turned Georgia governor could be president.

Biden was a first-term senator from Delaware in 1976 when he endorsed the Southern governor over a sweep of higher-profile figures, becoming one of the first elected officials outside Georgia to pick Carter in the race.

The president spoke of his close relationship with Carter in the new documentary “CARTERLAND” that’s set to premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival this weekend. Footage of the film was provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Jim and Will Pattiz, the film’s producers.

Former President Jimmy Carter, left, and President Joe Biden have had a long and fruitful relationship. Biden will visit Carter during a swing through Georgia on Thursday to mark the first 100 days of his term in the White House.

Credit: AJC file photo

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Credit: AJC file photo

“He showed us throughout his entire life what it means to be a public servant,” Biden said of Carter.

In the most recent biography of Carter, “His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life,” Jonathan Alter wrote that Biden was the first senator to endorse Carter in his bid for the presidency. “Biden would appear in dozens of states for Carter in 1976,” Alter wrote.

“He joked that, at age 33, he was still two years shy of the constitutional age requirement to be president. So, since he couldn’t yet run himself, he was backing Jimmy.”

Some 44 years later, Biden would be elected president on the heels of a major endorsement from Carter. Carter, who is 96, did not attend the Democratic National Convention nor the inauguration, but in a recorded speech he praised Biden as someone with the “experience, character and decency to bring us together and restore America’s greatness.”

The confab on Thursday made a sort of history between the oldest sitting president met with the longest-lived former president. Later, Biden told reporters how he enjoyed the meeting.

“It was great to see President Carter. And we sat and talked about the old days,” he said. “His health has gotten better.”

Jill Stuckey, superintendent of the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, said Biden is only the second sitting president, after Carter, of course, to ever visit Plains. In 1976, CIA director George H.W. Bush visited the newly-elected Carter in the town.

Before the meeting, the motorcade route in Plains was lined with many of the town’s roughly 600 residents, some who waved Biden-Harris signs as the convoy rumbled by a sign that welcomed visitors to the home of “our 39th president.”

“I was honored to welcome President Biden to the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park and participate in such a historic event,” Stuckey said, noting that Carter’s home is part of the park. “My smile was as big as President Carter’s today!”

In the “CARTERLAND” documentary, Biden recalls the experience of meeting Carter and the exact date he sided with the Georgia governor over more establishment candidates from the Northeast.

“Mr. President, I’ll never forget March 25, 1976. That was the day I traveled to Wisconsin and became the first United States senator — the first elected official outside of Georgia — to endorse you, Gov. Jimmy Carter, for president of the United States,” Biden said.

“Some of my colleagues in the Senate thought it was youthful exuberance on my part. I was exuberant. But as I said then, Jimmy’s not just a bright smile, but he can win and he can appeal to more segments of the population than any other person.”

In this picture is from June 14, 1977, Sen. Joe Biden (left) with President Carter (center) and someone else from the Delaware delegation.

Credit: Courtesy Jimmy Carter Presidential Library

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Credit: Courtesy Jimmy Carter Presidential Library

Senator Joe Biden with President Jimmy Carter with First Lady Rosalyn Carter, June 1987. Steve Deal/AJC

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