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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.

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"This entire [Democratic] convention has been devoted to winning over whites over 50, and that's why Biden was picked," said Stan Greenberg after a lunch for reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday. "I think Biden will have an effect on Obama. I think Obama will find a more comfortable language for doing this. It's hard for him, because he's just not an instinctive populist ... he doesn't look angry," he added.

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Doubts about Obama among this segment of the Democratic base could be decisive in the 2008 vote, says independent political analyst Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report.

"Whether you want to call it whites over 50 or blue-collar whites or older blue-collar whites, we're talking about one group, and either he connects with them or he doesn't," he says. "If he clears the hurdle, he can win big. If he doesn't, we're looking at a photo finish."

Several delegates interviewed in the convention hall Wednesday night said Biden could help Obama reach out to these voters.

"Barack Obama's style and essence did not go over well with blue-collar, Caucasian Democratic voters because he speaks a beautiful English and has lofty lexicon. They think he's just not one of them. He's a smart guy who went to college. Some of it may be race," says Dr. Elan Simckes, a Democratic delegate from St. Louis. "With Biden on the ticket, together they can work off each other."

Finally, Democrats are counting on Biden's personal story to attract support to the ticket. Biden describes his life growing up in middle-class neighborhoods of Scranton and Wilmington as living the American dream. Biden says he learned life by watching his father, Joseph Biden Sr., get up every morning and go to a job he never liked.

Biden's own life includes unexpected victories, such as the upset win in 1972 that made him one of the youngest ever to serve in the US Senate, and shattering losses, such as the death of his first wife and daughter in a traffic accident later that year. He began a lifelong practice of returning home every night from the Senate to Wilmington to be with his two surviving sons.

"Five years later," said his son, Beau Biden, "we married my mom, Jill. They together rebuilt our family." Beau Biden, Delaware attorney general, added during his introduction of his father: "And 36 years later, he still makes that trip. So even though Dad worked in Washington, he's never been part of Washington. He always sounded like the kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania, he is."

Biden's first presidential run in 1987 collapsed over charges of plagiarism, just as it was gaining traction. Biden says he did not address the charges quickly enough at the time. "Failure at some point in everyone's life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable," he said Wednesday night.

In a surprise appearance, Obama joined Biden and his family on the stage at the Pepsi Center after the acceptance speech. "I love Joe Biden, and America will too," he said.