The Obama-Biden ticket: An analysis

Barack Obama says he represents a new kind of post-partisan politics – but he’s made what appears to be a traditional choice for running mate.

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Washington - Barack Obama says he represents a new kind of post-partisan politics – but he’s made what appears to be a traditional choice for running mate.

Advisers often urge presidential candidates to plug holes in their own resumes with their vice-presidential picks, and that’s what Senator Obama may have done in opting for Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware. Senator Biden is many things Obama is not: experienced (35 years in the Senate), a foreign policy expert, and Catholic, for instance.

Perhaps most importantly, he’s nobody’s idea of effete. With a blue-collar background and tough campaign style, Biden could counter GOP efforts to frame Obama himself as an elitist.

“Biden fills gaps many people see in Obama’s credentials,” says Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The reverse is also true: Obama’s strengths are Biden’s weaknesses. Biden has twice run for president himself, including this cycle, to widespread disinterest on the part of national voters. And where Obama’s rhetoric soars, Biden’s mouth can get him in trouble.

Gaffes, misstatements, and even plagiarism have dogged Biden’s presidential campaigns. His garrulity is such that in congressional hearings he’s been known to ask questions of committee witnesses that are longer than their answers.

Even now Republican opposition researchers surely are poring over videotape of Biden talking, and talking, and then talking some more, in hopes of finding potentially controversial snippets.

“That is his Achilles heel,” says Professor Jillson.

Biden is a native of Scranton, Pa. His father had been born into wealth but spent it, and young Joe’s childhood was one of straitened circumstances.

As a young attorney, he was a political prodigy, earning election to the US Senate at age 29. Tragedy struck before he could take office, as his wife and young daughter died in an automobile accident. The grieving Biden was sworn in after reaching the constitutionally-mandated age for Senate service of 30.

He is currently serving his sixth term in the Senate and is chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations. From 1987 until 1995 he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

In 2002 Biden voted to authorize the war in Iraq but has since become a vocal critic of the conflict. Previously he also backed a proposal to pacify Iraq by splitting it along ethnic lines.

In choosing Biden as his running mate, Barack Obama passed over a number of other serious candidates, none more prominent than Obama's main rival in the Democratic primaries, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Senator Clinton's aides said their boss had never undergone the vetting required of most vice-presidential candidates and it remained unclear whether she had even been under seious consideration. On Aug. 23, she said she was pleased with Obama’s choice, and called Biden “an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant”.

The campaign of Obama's GOP rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, portrayed Biden as a Washington insider, saying the choice was the status-quo pick by a candidate who has insisted he represents change.

Before he dropped out of the presidential race, Biden was a harsh critic of Obama’s lack of experience, said McCain spokesman Ben Porritt.

“Biden has denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing – that Barack Obama is not ready to be president,” said Mr. Porritt.

Republicans are sure to exploit such past statements. For example: In fall 2007, regarding Obama’s credentials, he said the presidency is “not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.”

In addition, the GOP is sure to remind voters that in 1988 Biden withdrew from his first presidential race amidst accusations that he had plagiarized passages in a campaign speech from former British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.

Given his running-mate options, Barack Obama made the second-best choice with Biden, says political historian Allan Lichtman of American University in Washington. Hillary Clinton would have been the best pick in Lichtman’s judgment.

Unlike Clinton, Biden has no national following and does not generate campaign electricity. But Lichtman says Biden’s years of Washington service mean he is qualified actually to serve as vice president – and to step into the presidency if required to do so.

“He is a meat and potatoes Democrat with appeal to white working-class voters,” says Lichtman.

Obama announced his vice presidential pick two days before the beginning of the Democratic convention in Denver. The official word came in a 3 a.m. EDT text message from the Obama campaign to the phones and computers of supporters.

Though word of the selection had leaked out several hours prior, Biden’s selection was successfully kept secret by the campaign for several days. Other vice-presidential finalists included Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh.

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