REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE (AP) – This resort town known for Atlantic waves that are sometimes surfable, fresh-cut French fries and a one-mile wooden boardwalk that dates to the 1870s has long prided itself on being the ‘Nation’s Summer Capital’.
It may soon sport a beach White House. President-elect Joe Biden owns a USD2.7 million, Delaware North Shores home with a swimming pool that overlooks Cape Henlopen State Park, is blocked from the ocean and a short drive from downtown Rehoboth Beach.
It’s a getaway about two hours by motorcade from Washington and a bit less than that from Biden’s longtime home in Wilmington.
Biden spent time in Rehoboth Beach after the Democratic National Convention and made his first trip back this weekend as president-elect.
“I think he’s earned, certainly, a couple of days off,” said an adviser to Biden’s transition team, Jen Psaki.
Movie stars Richard Gere and Denzel Washington have frequented Rehoboth Beach, as has ESPN commentator and former Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser. Biden would be the first president to vacation regularly in the shore town.
That may be fitting for Biden, who proudly referred to himself as the poorest man in Congress for much of the 36 years he served in the Senate. He bought the beach house after leaving the vice presidency, aided by an USD8 million, multibook deal that he and his wife, Jill, signed.
“Throughout our careers, Jill and I have dreamed of being able to buy a place at the beach at home where we can bring the whole family,” Biden said in a statement upon buying the home. “We feel very lucky that we’re now able to make that happen.”
They moved in less than two years after Biden’s son Beau, a former Delaware attorney general, died of brain cancer. One sign on the house reads ‘Beau’s gift’, while another said ‘Forever Jill’.
Rehoboth Beach may now join Palm Beach, Florida, Massachusetts’ Martha’s Vineyard and Crawford, Texas, as famous recent presidential retreats. The transformation is already underway.
Though access to Biden’s home is restricted, reporters swarmed Rehoboth Beach anyway this weekend, with TV journalists thronging the boardwalk for stand-ups.
The Browseabout Bookstore on the main drag set up a special display featuring biographies about Biden, as well as the books that Joe and Jill Biden wrote, Biden calendars, mugs, colouring books and earrings.
A Biden action figure cost USD15, as did the newest item – grey socks adorned with the now-president-elect wearing a red, white and blue-stripped tie and proclaiming, ‘Vote for Joe Biden’.
The top seller was a Biden scented candle that smells like one of his favourite drinks: orange Gatorade.
After he left the vice presidency, Biden used to come to the Browseabout to buy coffee and newspapers after church on some Sundays. “The treatment that they get is the same as everybody. We’re not fan-girling. We want everybody to feel welcome,” senior Browseabout staff member Jessie Jones said of the Bidens. “Now, people in the store, that’s a different story.”
Another senior staff member, Andreea Istrate, said that when Jill Biden came to sign copies of her 2012 book Don’t Forget: God Bless Our Troops at the store, Joe Biden shook hands with everybody in line and used a quip he reprised often while running for president, “Hi, I’m Jill’s husband.” It got so crowded that Istrate climbed out a window to leave, rather than trying to squeeze through the door.
“There was definitely a high energy today,” Jones said, as world spread that Biden was back. “People were saying, ‘Lets’ do our Christmas shopping and, if we happen to see Joe, great’.”
Mayor Stan Mills said Jill Biden often biked through neighbourhoods, enjoying the shade of expansive tree canopies that are rare in seaside areas.
“We’re hopeful that, I call him the famously friendly Biden, will continue his strolls around town,” said Mills, who said he’d not yet met Biden but hope he would “soonish.”
Rehoboth has a high concentration of dolphins that are frequently spotted frolicking in the surf and other noted vacation fare including fudge, saltwater taffy and ice cream flavoured with tonsil-toasting ghost peppers.
It has about 1,500 full-time residents but grows to about 25,000 during the summer months. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Independence Day weekend and the annual Sea Witch Festival marking Halloween could draw 80,000.
Owner of Nicola Pizza Nick Caggiano first met Biden during his inaugural run for the Senate in 1972. Caggiano said three teams of Secret Service agents arrived to pickup takeout pizzas for the Bidens when they got to town on a Thursday.
“I think Joe, through the years, always had the personality,” Caggiano said. “He’s got the charisma.”