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Obama's VP pick: a triumph of no-change politics

Joe Biden is the ultimate Washington Insider.

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That reality consists of two key facts: 1) Polls show lingering reluctance among white Democrats and independents to embrace Obama. 2) McCain's negative strategy is working.

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Heading into the conventions, polls have pointed to the weaknesses in Obama's candidacy. It's not just white men, either. McCain's favorables are at least as high as Obama's, even in some states where Obama leads. In polls of generic match-ups between Republicans and Democrats for Congress, Democrats lead by double digits. Obama has no such lead – a signal taken by many that his support is not as strong as it should be, given the public's overwhelming rejection of the Bush presidency and Republican rule.

The bottom line: For all the factors that would seem to favor Obama and the Democrats this year, the race is a tossup, and the outcome is going to be very close.

A month ago, this race was in a different place. It was then that McCain realized he had a losing strategy. His current campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, gave the blunt advice that McCain would lose if the status quo of the campaign remained in place. So McCain drastically shifted to another strategy – the tried and tested one of driving your opponent's negatives higher. He has been gaining on Obama ever since.

Likewise, Obama's pick shows that his campaign has shifted strategy, too. Framing his candidacy as a harbinger of a "new politics" just wasn't getting the job done. By going with Biden – who represents what Obama was running against – he gets a blue-collar "fighter," someone who can punch back at McCain's jabs. Most likely, he wasn't Obama's desired choice, but he's probably as good a counter as Democrats could expect, given the shape of the campaign.

McCain would have loved to just jive it up with the press on the back of the bus and get favorable newspaper clips the next morning, the way he used to do back when he was running for president in 2000. Obama would have loved to ride above it all while the media glowed at his meta-narrative. But in the no holds barred partisan environment of the general election, both men have succumbed to the highly managed, and highly disciplined, practice of "message" politics and negative ads.

Despite it all, the netroots backing of the Democratic nominee remains strong. We recognize a highly partisan atmosphere as a feature, not a bug, in the campaign landscape of our times. We fight hard, and to win. We have been waiting for Obama to fight back against the smears, and believe that with Biden, some help has arrived.

In order to govern, you have to win first.

Jerome Armstrong, coauthor of "Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics," is founder of the political blog,