Last weekend, he bounded around a neighborhood in Newark, Del., hugging voters, grasping them by their elbows and imploring them to support Ms. Hansen, a former county legislator.
“We need her to control the Senate!” Mr. Biden, 74, told one person on Saturday. He goaded another: “We’ve got to get Stephanie in here. Come on, help us out, O.K.?”
Under normal circumstances, a single legislative race in a low-key suburb might inspire little interest from national Democrats, much less draw in a former vice president. But with President Trump in the White House and Republicans holding power in Congress, Democrats have looked to a handful of deep-blue states as the last arenas where they can advance liberal policies on issues like education and health care. Delaware is one of just a few states where Democrats hold the governorship and both legislative chambers.
Should Republicans capture the vacant State Senate seat this Saturday, they would take a majority in the chamber and deny Democrats the power to make policy unfettered, even in a traditional stronghold like Delaware.
So with Mr. Biden leading the way, Democrats have spared no effort in the race. Money has poured in to support Ms. Hansen, including some from states like New York and California: She reported raising more than $300,000 over the last three weeks, several times the normal budget of a Delaware legislative race. Ms. Hansen’s opponent, John Marino, a real estate broker and a retired New York City police officer, raised less than one-sixth of that.
Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the district, but turnout is unpredictable in special elections, and Mr. Marino nearly pulled off an upset win in 2014, the last time the seat was on the ballot. He lost by two percentage points to Bethany Hall-Long, a Democrat who gave up the seat after winning a race for lieutenant governor in November.
In addition to Mr. Biden, Ms. Hansen has been joined on the trail by Delaware’s Democratic governor, John Carney; its two Democratic senators, Thomas R. Carper and Chris Coons; and Martin O’Malley, a former Maryland governor and presidential candidate. Labor unions and an outside group, First State Strong, which has not disclosed its donors, have also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting Ms. Hansen.
Mr. O’Malley called the investment in Delaware a sign that Democrats were “waking up to the reality that we’ve got to rebuild our party” at the state level. He said they had grown too complacent about state-level elections during Mr. Obama’s administration and suffered staggering losses as a result.
Republicans now control 33 governorships and have full control of the government — holding the governor’s office and the Legislature — in 25 states.
“Sometimes, as Democrats, we kid ourselves into thinking the only office that matters is the presidency and the only legislature that matters is the United States Senate,” Mr. O’Malley said. “But you can’t be a national party if that’s the warped perspective you maintain.”
Campaigning door to door on the same afternoon in Melody Meadows, a Newark-area neighborhood of brick split-level homes and quiet cul-de-sacs, Ms. Hansen said she was sharply aware of the high stakes in the race. “Oh, my gosh, there’s a lot of pressure,” she said.
She said she had been caught off guard by what she described as an uncommonly large number of Democrats eager to help, including the former vice president. She said her campaign had appealed to Mr. Biden after hearing a rumor that Mike Pence, his Republican successor, might campaign for Mr. Marino. After appearing at a fund-raising event, Mr. Biden offered to do more.
“He said to me, ‘I’d be happy to come down and go door-knocking with you,” Ms. Hansen recalled. “I said, ‘Are you serious?’”
Mr. Marino has enjoyed no such surge of support from national Republicans. Mr. Pence has not appeared, and a spokesman did not respond to an email asking if he had seriously considered a visit.
Mr. Marino did not respond to multiple voice mail messages.
Charles Copeland, chairman of the Delaware Republican Party, said there had never been any plan to bring in out-of-state Republicans like Mr. Pence. He suggested Democrats might have “started that rumor to get Joe Biden to come out and campaign.” And he said it showed weakness on the part of the Democrats that they had to work so hard to retain the seat.
He predicted that Mr. Biden’s involvement would matter little. “I think the impact is zero,” Mr. Copeland said. “People don’t vote for a candidate because somebody else who plays for that guy’s team, or that woman’s team, says, ‘Vote for them.’”
It is unclear if the former vice president’s swift return to electoral politics in Delaware signals anything about his future. Mr. Biden, who declined to be interviewed, has mused about running for president in 2020 and has urged Democrats to compete hard for the blue-collar white voters Mr. Trump won over last year.
Kate Bedingfield, an aide to Mr. Biden, said the former vice president viewed state and local officials as controlling “some of the most meaningful decisions in government — decisions that have the most impact on people’s lives.”
“He’s committed to helping ensure that leaders who understand the challenges facing the middle class get elected at all levels,” Ms. Bedingfield said. “He’s known Stephanie for many years and has campaigned with her in the past, and he believes she will be a first-rate leader.”
As he strode through Newark last weekend with Ms. Hansen, Mr. Biden, clad in a tweed jacket and sunglasses, was plainly in his element, warmly greeting Delawareans who voted for him for much of their adult lives. One couple, Bernard and Joan McKeehan, told him they had been following his career since 1971. Don Lutte, 79, a retired schoolteacher, said after meeting Mr. Biden, “He talked to me like he knew me.”
As Mr. Biden patrolled the neighborhood, one voter called out to him: “You’d better run against Trump.”
Ms. Hansen has subtly tied the race to Mr. Trump in some of her advertising, using video of protests against the new president. Though she insisted that many of the crucial issues in the race were local — like funding for public schools and fighting drug addiction — she acknowledged there was considerable symbolic importance, too, for demoralized Democrats in Mr. Biden’s home state.
She said many of her conversations with voters began as venting sessions for liberal-leaning voters seething about Mr. Trump and riveted by the news from Washington.
“I will come up to houses and you can hear in the background MSNBC, CNN — people are glued to their TV sets,” Ms. Hansen said, “because you never know what craziness is going to pop up during the day.”
Against that uneasy mood, Ms. Hansen said she hoped to close the race on a relatively upbeat note, with a final pair of campaign mailings. One would feature a photograph of her with a lovable pet — a big, friendly farm dog that belongs to a close friend. (Her own dog died about a year ago, Ms. Hansen explained.)
The other campaign mailing, Ms. Hansen said, would show her with Joe Biden.
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