Joe Biden had just walked through the door and Amy Lappos was “incredibly excited”.
- Eight women have accused Joe Biden of inappropriate touching
- Mr Biden has apologised and said he would be more mindful of personal space
- He is still expected to announce he will enter the 2020 presidential race
She was volunteering at a $1,000-per-plate Democratic Party fundraiser in 2009, where the then-newly elected vice-president was the star attraction.
None of the volunteers had expected to get close to him, so they seized the chance to take photos with one of the most powerful men in the world.
Then came a close encounter that has now swept Ms Lappos up in a national media storm.
‘Not sexual but sexist’
“He came up to me … and wrapped his hands kind of here,” Ms Lappos told 7.30, gesturing to the back of her head.
“He slid his hands and pulled me close so we were touching face-to-face.
“I thought he was trying to kiss me. I felt awkward, uncomfortable, I could feel his breath.”
Initially, Ms Lappos and her colleagues made light of the “nose rubbing”, joking “the vice-president tried to make out with me”.
“The initial reaction from everybody was, ‘Oh my God, you’re so lucky’, so I kind of felt maybe there was something wrong with me,” she said.
“I’m a rape survivor. I’m also a domestic violence survivor. So to me, my personal space is different.
“I thought that was my own thing.”
For nearly a decade she kept her feelings to herself.
But she decided to go public after seeing former Nevada politician Lucy Flores recently criticised for accusing Mr Biden of kissing her head and smelling her hair at a 2014 event.
“It’s not sexual but it is sexist and inappropriate,” Ms Lappos said.
Is Biden’s approach out of date in the #MeToo era?
Mr Biden has been in the US political sphere for 47 years, and there are many examples of his close contact with constituents.
Some have publicly said they welcomed his touch. Stephanie Carter, the wife of former defence secretary Ash Carter, wrote about how a shoulder massage from Mr Biden gave her comfort in a stressful time.
No-one has accused him of sexual assault.
But eight women have now publicly claimed the former vice-president crossed a professional line and invaded their personal space.
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” Mr Biden said after the controversy erupted.
“I’m not sorry for my intentions; I’m not sorry for anything I’ve ever done. I’ve never been disrespectful intentionally.”
The allegations are getting so much media attention in America because Mr Biden, a moderate Democrat, is expected to jump into the presidential election race shortly after Easter.
Many think he is their best shot of winning over key mid-west states and taking the White House.
Some of the former vice-president’s supporters suspect this controversy is politically motivated.
They worry it may have been whipped up inside the left wing of the Democratic Party in an attempt to unfairly cast Mr Biden as a pariah of the #MeToo movement and derail his campaign before it even begins.
‘Pick up the phone and say sorry’
“I hope to God this is not politically motivated,” Moe Vela, Mr Biden’s former deputy chief of staff, told 7:30.
“I am moving forward as if it is not.”
Mr Vela is close friends with Mr Biden and Ms Flores, the first woman to go public.
He told 7.30 that both are “good souls”.
“Should we invade one another’s personal space? Absolutely not,” Mr Vela said.
“But Joe Biden has such a beautiful, affectionate and loving heart and he connects with people in such a fantastic way.
QU Biden Poll
“If kindness and love and care disqualify somebody from being President of the United States, what does that say about our nation? What does that say about our society?
“I honestly would love for the vice-president to just pick up the phone and call each one of them and say, ‘You know what, I’m mortified and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that anything I did or said made you feel uncomfortable’.”
If the current White House occupant is any guide, then this controversy seems survivable.
Mr Trump was famously recorded talking about grabbing women “by the p***y”, yet still won the 2016 election.
And the latest surveys suggest most Democratic voters have not changed their views on Mr Biden.
Treatment of women ‘has to be part of the conversation’
Ms Lappos does not expect her story will knock the former vice-president out of the race, but she does hope it leads to more people thinking about how women are treated in politics.
“I will vote blue [Democratic] no matter who,” she said.
“But we are in the primary stages, and I really want a candidate who is super pro-women and, no, I’m not afraid to say that.
“How our candidates think about women — how they treat women — has to be part of the conversation.”