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Biden begins to shore up Obama's defensive line

His speech Wednesday night at the Democratic convention revealed his tasks: attack McCain's positions and appeal to blue-collar white voters.

By Staff writer / August 28, 2008

Sen. Joseph Biden, No. 2 on the Democratic ticket, characterized the Bush administration's foreign policy as 'an abject failure.' He spoke Wednesday night at the party convention in Denver.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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Denver – In his acceptance speech Wednesday night, Sen. Joseph Biden showed the credentials that prompted his choice as No. 2 on the Democratic presidential ticket: a compelling personal story, rooted in family values; foreign policy gravitas; and a hard-edged political attack, delivered with grace.

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With 36 years in the US Senate – all of them on the Foreign Relations Committee, which he currently chairs – Senator Biden brings a knowledge of foreign affairs and a network of international contacts unmatched on the Democratic side of the aisle.

In his choice of a running mate, Barack Obama "hit it out of the park," said former President Bill Clinton in his address to the convention before Biden's prime-time speech. "With Joe Biden's experience and wisdom, supporting Barack Obama's proven understanding, insight, and good instincts, America will have the national security leadership we need," he added.

Early polls signal that Biden's addition to the ticket has yet to produce a bounce, but it's early yet. (Most bounces don't come until after a party convention, and this one ends Thursday night.) But Democrats in Denver are counting on "Lunch Pail Joe" to reassure key elements of their party's base – and to take the fight to the Republicans.

For many party activists, what's been missing in the Obama campaign to date is a strong defensive line. They're looking to Biden, known in the Senate for a sharp tongue, to provide it. On Wednesday, he tried to walk the line of knocking down McCain's positions without flattening the character of the GOP's presumptive nominee himself.

"John McCain is my friend. We've known each other for three decades. We've traveled the world together. And the personal courage and heroism John demonstrated still amaze me," Biden said. "But I profoundly disagree with the direction that John wants to take the country."

What's wrong with McCain's views? He thinks the nation has made great economic progress, Biden said. "I think it's been abysmal." Though claiming a reputation as a maverick, "John sided with President Bush 95 percent of the time," he said. Millions of jobs have left America's shore, he asserted, but "McCain supports tax breaks for corporations that send them." And so on.

The tough talk played well in the Pepsi Center, as the crowd joined Biden's refrain after each attack: "That's not change; that's more of the same."

"We're not going to let what happened in the past, such as 'swift-boating' (a reference to unanswered attacks on John Kerry's war record in the 2004 presidential campaign), happen to this team," says Gilberto Hinojosa, a lawyer and delegate from Brownsville, Texas. "Joe Biden is a guy who's going to roll up his sleeves and throw punches when they need to be thrown."

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