Joe Biden Claims He Was Arrested in South Africa in the 1970s

Mr. Biden’s repetition in recent days of the story about an arrest in South Africa comes as he confronts challenging political headwinds. Once the national front-runner, he turned in disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire, two heavily white states, where he finished fourth and fifth, respectively. His campaign is banking on at least a second-place finish in Nevada on Saturday and a victory in South Carolina, two diverse states where voters of color play crucial roles. He regularly uses his remarks to try to connect with black voters, such as saying in Nevada and elsewhere that he was “raised in the black church.’’

In South Carolina in particular, Mr. Biden is pinning his hopes on a strong showing with African-American voters, a constituency with which he polled strongly throughout much of the race, though he now faces increasing competition for the support of black voters.

After recounting the story of his arrest while campaigning in South Carolina last week, Mr. Biden subsequently told it twice more in Nevada, mistakenly saying Robbens Island instead of Robben, where Mr. Mandela was held for much of his 27-year imprisonment.

And on Sunday, as he had in South Carolina, he also delivered a coda to the story.

“After he got free and became president, he came to Washington and came to my office,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Mandela at a black history awards brunch in Las Vegas. “He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I want to say thank you.’ I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’ He said, ‘You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me.’”

On Tuesday, speaking in Las Vegas at an event with Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters, he said that he “came back from South Africa, trying to see Nelson Mandela and getting arrested for trying to see him,” right before he received an answer to his marriage proposal from his now-wife, Jill Biden.

Mr. Biden has previously discussed visiting South Africa as a young senator — but his emphasis in discussing his travel there has not been on an arrest.