By CHRISTOPHER COOPER
August 23, 2008 5:54 p.m.
Barack Obama picked Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden as his running mate, choosing a long-time Washington insider who could balance his thin resume on foreign policy over younger politicians who could have amplified the Democratic presidential candidate's message of change.
The campaign made a formal announcement about 3 a.m., with a text message to supporters saying "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee" and inviting them to watch a webstream video of their first rally together Saturday afternoon.
Sen. Biden, who has been in the Senate for more than 30 years, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and recently returned from war-torn Georgia, which he visited at the behest of that country's president. Sen. Obama, by contrast, is a freshman senator who is regularly attacked by his Republican opponent, John McCain, for his lack of foreign policy experience.
Polls have consistently shown voters trust Sen. McCain more than Sen. Obama on foreign policy and national security issues.
"Biden talks about foreign policy the way the rest of us talk about baseball,"
said Larry Rasky, a longtime political adviser to the Delaware senator. "He
lives it and breathes it."
Sen. Biden also has been a fixture for a generation on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he developed a reputation as a staunch partisan in some of the earliest and most vitriolic battles over the Supreme Court. As chairman of that panel, he presided over the controversial confirmation hearings of conservative jurists Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991. (He voted against both. Judge Bork's nomination was defeated. Justice Thomas was confirmed).
Word of the Biden nomination first leaked out overnight, after the two other men widely considered to be on Sen. Obama's shortlist -- Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine -- told associates they had been notified by the campaign that they would not be chosen.
The 47-year-old Sen. Obama and 65-year-old Sen. Biden appeared together Saturday afternoon for the first time officially as a ticket at a rally in Springfield, Ill., the place where the Illinois lawmaker launched his presidential bid early last year. The two men are planning to take a tour of swing states before arriving in Denver for their party's nominating convention, which opens Monday.
Sen. Biden is a two-time presidential candidate himself, and during his short-lived run in the current cycle, he was at times critical of Sen. Obama's foreign-policy bona fides. That will be a staple of Republican attacks in coming days. At about 6 a.m. Saturday, the McCain campaign released a 30-second television it said would air in key states, that opens with Sen. Biden being asked about comments he had made saying Sen. Obama wasn't ready to be president. "I stand by that statement," he said. It then shows a separate television clip of him praising Sen. McCain. (See related article.)
Sen. McCain -- who has served with Sen. Biden in the Senate for 20 years -- will call the Delaware senator later today to congratulate him.
Sen. McCain is expected to make his own vice presidential pick by the end of the week, before the Republican convention opens in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 1. Where Sen. Obama was looking to offset his weakness in foreign policy, Sen. McCain may be seeking a partner who can address his perceived shortfalls in economic policy. One rumored candidate is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a successful venture capitalist. Another is Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who trumpets his working class roots and talks of making the Republican Party more appealing to "Sam's Club" voters.
In passing over Messrs. Bayh and Kaine, Sen. Obama steered away from the prospect that his vice presidential choice could help him flip large, long-Republican states of Indiana and Virginia, where he is competing heavily.
Sen. Biden's tiny Delaware is reliably Democratic. But he is also well-known in neighboring Pennsylvania, where he grew up in Scranton, the son of a Catholic car salesman. His working-class roots there could help Sen. Obama shore up a weakness in the state that has voted Democratic in the past four presidential elections -- but where Sen. Obama was trounced by Hillary Clinton in the April Democratic primary.
One open question, as Democrats head to their convention, is whether the Biden pick will agitate the followers of Sen. Clinton, some of whom had hopes until the end that she might be Sen. Obama's running mate. Many of her supporters say they'll either stay home in November or back Sen. McCain. (See related article.)
Another possible weakness in the Biden pick: The verbose lawmaker is known for regular verbal gaffes that prompt him to retract them. Last year, when he announced his presidential candidacy, Sen. Biden's comments about Sen. Obama made news when he referred to the Illinois senator as a "clean" African-American.
"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate andStunned by the reaction to his comment and clearly embarrassed, Sen. Biden quickly issued an apology, both to Sen. Obama and the public. At a candidate forum shortly afterwards, Sen. Obama said he was convinced that Sen. Biden meant no offense by the statement.
bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Sen. Biden said. "I mean, that's a
His sometimes sharp tongue, however, could make him useful for the traditional "attack dog" role that vice presidential candidates play in campaigns, particularly as the partner to a presidential candidate often criticized, even by some Democrats, as being slow to punch back at political rivals. Last year, he blasted New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for being patently unqualified to be president. "Rudy Giuliani. There's only three things he mentions in a sentence -- a noun, a verb, and 9/11," Sen. Biden said at a debate in 2007, in a reference to the 2001 terrorist attack on New York. "There's nothing else."
Though Sen. Biden made a poor showing in the presidential primary contest, he distinguished himself as an able fund-raiser and an intelligent campaigner, raising more than $14 million in a contest dominated by heavyweights and routinely garnering the biggest applause lines at public forums. His command of the issues at presidential forums made him stand out in a big field, prompting his campaign to make up buttons with the simple slogan "Joe Knows."
Sen. Biden has spent most of his adult life as a U.S. senator since his election to represent Delaware in 1972 at the age of 29. A self-professed mediocre student, he grew up working-class, and friends say his modest upbringing still shines through as he campaigns, despite all his years in Washington.
As a politician from a small state, Sen. Biden is a big believer in retail politics. "I think I'm at my best when I'm out with regular people, in their face and in their living rooms and diners," he said in an interview last summer. "That's where I find out that a majority of people agree with my plans, even if a majority of people have no idea who I am."
Boosters say it's his ability to interact with working-class Americans, more than foreign policy, that will prove to be most valuable to Sen. Obama, who is often cast as cold and professorial and has had difficulty attracting white, blue-collar voters.
Sen. Biden has a compelling personal story, marked by tragedy. Within weeks of his election in 1972, his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash, and his two sons injured. He was sworn into office from the hospital room of his sons, both of whom have made a complete recovery. It was then that he took up the habit of commuting by train from Wilmington, Del., to Washington on days the Senate was in session, a one-and-a-half-hour journey that he continues to make today.
The senator, a Roman Catholic, has spoken of receiving a "second chance in life" after surviving surgery on two brain aneurysms, shortly after ending his first presidential bid in 1988.
It's likely that Sen. Biden, who is popular within his own party, will be greeted warmly by the majority of Obama supporters, as he has proven to be less conservative than some of his rivals for the job. Sen. Biden is generally a straight-ticket mainstream Democrat, voting party line on hot-button issues such as abortion rights, despite being a Catholic. (He did oppose legalization of late-term abortions.) He scored an F on the National Rifle Association's scorecard for his support of gun-control laws.
Sen. Biden initially supported the 2003 Iraq invasion -- a move Sen. Obama opposed as an Illinois state senator, an original centerpiece of his campaign. But over the past five years, Sen. Biden has long complained that the U.S. didn't send enough troops initially to prosecute the war, opposed President Bush's troop surge, and has suggested a "Third Way" for ending the conflict, which would call for reorganizing the country politically under a federal system that would break it into thirds, along ethnic lines.
Sen. Biden was harshly critical of Sen. Obama's vote last year opposing continuing funding of the conflict, saying the Illinois senator was being politically expedient. Sen. Biden invoked the image of his son Beau, the Delaware Attorney General, who also serves as a captain in the Delaware National Guard, scheduled to depart on a tour of duty in Iraq in October. "There's no political point worth my son's life," he said at the time.
During his first run for the presidency, in 1987, Sen. Biden was accused of plagiarizing lines from British politician Neil Kinnock, caught on videotape uttering them without giving credit. Though Sen. Biden had used the lines several times before and given proper credit, the incident effectively finished his run that year. In his 2007 autobiography, Sen. Biden recalls that recounting the pilfered lines left a lady in the front row in tears that day. "I hadn't found a place to stop and slip in the standard attribution," he wrote. "I wish I had."
His ordeal may have drawn sympathy from Sen. Obama, who was himself accused of plagiarizing statements of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, his political surrogate, during the primary season by Sen. Clinton.
In more than 30 years in Washington, Sen. Biden appears to have done little to have enriched himself. With the exception of a $112,000 book advance, he showed little income in 2007 beyond his $165,000 Senate salary and the $20,500 his wife made by teaching at Widener University in Chester, Pa.
Some of Sen. Biden's presidential contributors may have caught the eye of the Obama campaign vetter. On July 5, the Biden campaign gave to charity $11,500 in cash that was donated by a quartet of Mississippi lawyers who later pleaded guilty to a scheme to bribe a state judge, including well-known litigator Richard "Dickie" Scruggs.
A fundraising invitation obtained by The Wall Street Journal shows that three of the men held a fundraiser for Sen. Biden at the Oxford University Club in August, 2007. Federal Election Commission records show that Sen. Biden received several thousands of dollars from relatives of Mr. Scruggs and employees of the Balducci law firm that have not been returned or donated to charity.
A spokesman for Sen. Biden confirmed the charitable contributions but wouldn't comment further.
MORE ON BIDEN
Age: 65; born Nov. 20, 1942 in Scranton, Pa.
Experience: U.S. senator, 1972-present; New Castle County Council, 1970-72; sought presidential nomination, 1988, 2008.
Education: Bachelor's degree in history and political science, University of Delaware, 1965; law degree, Syracuse University, 1968.
Family: Married Neilia Hunter in 1966; three children, Beau, Hunter, and Naomi. His wife and daughter Naomi died in a car crash in 1972. Married Jill Jacobs in 1977; one daughter, Ashley. Beau Biden is now Delaware's attorney general.
Political interests: Foreign relations, judiciary
• Biden's Foreign Policy Background Carries Growing Cachet
--Monica Langley, Elizabeth Holmes, Louise Radnofsky, and Amy Chozick contributed to this article.