Can Joe Biden run this marathon?
Thursday, Sept. 14, looks to be a fateful day in the half-century-long political career of Joe Biden.
That night, a three-hour debate will be held, a marathon in politics.
Biden will be on stage, taking incoming missiles for 180 minutes from nine rivals, each of whom is hungry for the Democratic nomination and has a huge investment in seeing him stumble and fall.
A solid showing by Biden that night, marked by wit and a mastery of the issues, would cause a storm surge of relief in the Democratic Party.
It would provide desperately needed reassurance to millions of Democrats who have a gnawing fear Biden's time has come and gone, that he is losing it, that his memory is failing, and that, at any moment, from some egregious gaffe, his campaign could crater and crash.
If he stumbles that night, misremembers or misspeaks repeatedly in the three hours, the apprehension about his nomination, already widespread among the party elite, could turn into panic.
Why is the Democratic Party apprehensive about Joe Biden?
Though every poll has him running well ahead of his competitors, the Biden campaign has ranged from dull to embarrassing.
Biden began by speaking nostalgically of his days as a young senator and the warm friendships he formed with segregationist senators Herman Talmadge and Jim Eastland, the latter a Mississippi pillar of "massive resistance" to civil rights legislation.
In the first debate, Biden was skewered by Sen. Kamala Harris for having boasted of opposing the court-ordered busing that, Harris claims, enabled her to get an integrated education in California.