LOS ANGELES – Praising his running mate as a man who “brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn’t changed him,” Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama introduced running mate Sen. Joseph Biden Saturday on the very spot where Obama began his campaign 19 months ago.
Speaking on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., where Abraham Lincoln called for an end to slavery one-and-a-half centuries ago, Obama said the veteran senator from Delaware is “a statesman with sound judgment who doesn’t have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.”
Obama went on to say: “Joe Biden won’t just make a good vice president – he will make a great vice president. After decades of steady work across the aisle, I know he’ll be able to help me turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington, so we can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people.”
Obama announced his pick two days before Democrats were to convene in Denver for their quadrennial convention in which he and Biden are expected to be picked as the party’s nominees.
After flying in from his home in Wilmington, Del., Biden took the stage after Obama and did his own praising of the presumptive nominee, before making a plea for change. Biden said Obama has a unique opportunity to “not only change the direction of America, but the world.”
The newly christened running mate also criticized Washington lawmakers who try to escape responsibility to lead the nation into a new era.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the reckoning is now,” Biden said.
The outspoken Biden also took the opportunity to take a few shots at the duo’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.
Saying he understands the troubles currently facing working Americans, Biden noted that many parents spent sleepless nights at their kitchen tables trying to figure out how to make ends meet.
“(McCain) would have to figure out which of his seven kitchen tables to sit at,” Biden said, to hooting and cheers from the crowd. He was referring to McCain’s recent inability to remember how many homes he and wife Cindy own, a gaffe that Obama is trying to use to illustrate that his opponent is out of touch with working Americans.
The trotting out of Biden caps weeks of speculation over who Obama would pick to help him win the November general election. Obama had planned to notify supporters via e-mail and text messages first, but that was spoiled late Friday when news reports surfaced that said Biden would be the pick.
Biden, who like Obama is a critic of the Iraq war, was selected after an exhaustive review of a number of candidates, including Sen. Evan Bayh from Indiana and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. But reports had said Obama didn’t include his main Democratic rival for the presidency, Sen. Hillary Clinton, in the vetting process though many Democrats called for her to be named.
Clinton, who narrowly lost the nomination to Obama, nevertheless praised Biden in a statement released Saturday morning.
“In naming my colleague and friend Sen. Joe Biden to be the vice presidential nominee, Sen. Obama has continued in the best traditions for the vice presidency by selecting an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant,” Clinton said. “Sen. Biden will be a purposeful and dynamic vice president who will help Sen. Obama both win the presidency and govern this great country.”
Biden voted for the original Senate resolution authorizing the war in Iraq but has been a critic of the U.S. occupation. Biden’s son Beau, a captain in the Army National Guard and Delaware’s attorney general, is set to deploy to Iraq with his unit in October.
It wasn’t long after Biden was picked that McCain took issue with the selection. Late Friday, the McCain campaign pointed out that Biden himself has questioned Obama’s lack of experience in the past. An ad that quotes Biden criticizing Obama and praising McCain was already being circulated.
“There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama’s lack of experience than Joe Biden. 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.” McCain spokesman Ben Porritt said in a press release Friday night.
Regardless of past criticisms, Biden had emerged in recent days as the frontrunner for his 36 years of experience in the U.S. Senate, as well as his leadership on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
Obama was thought to be in need of an experienced foreign policy hand after perceptions arose that McCain might have been better prepared to handle the recent invasion of the Georgian republic by Russia. Biden himself visited Georgia in the days after the invasion and met with President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Biden, considered one of the more feisty members of the Senate, has a long and storied past. He was one of the youngest senators elected, and was actually below the legal age of 30 for being a senator when voting took place. But he turned 30 prior to his swearing-in.
Right before being added to the ticket, Biden was viewed favorably by 43 percent of voters nationwide, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll. Most also view him as politically liberal: 41 percent of voters characterized him as liberal, vs. the 22 percent who say he’s moderate and the 15 percent who say he’s conservative.
While Biden offers a more seasoned hand on the ticket to accompany the youthful, 47-year-old Obama, he could bring liabilities to the candidate. Biden’s own outspoken tendencies can come back to haunt him, as evidenced by the McCain ad. He seemed to depart from his script Saturday by telling the crowd that his wife, Jill, is “drop dead gorgeous.”
Biden also took heat last year for calling Obama an “articulate” and “clean” African-American candidate, remarks that some said smacked of racism. Obama dismissed the statement at the time.
In addition to running for the presidency this year, Biden made a bid during the 1988 campaign season. His effort was derailed, however, amid allegations he plagiarized part of a speech. It later was determined that Biden borrowed part of a speech from then-British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, and had attributed it in other talks, but on one occasion didn’t credit Kinnock. That speech was videotaped and highlighted.
But Biden can fill a lot of the gaps in the Obama campaign. Not only does he have extensive foreign policy and domestic experience, Biden also projects a “lunch-bucket” image that some say is missing from the Obama effort. It is believed he could help win over the voters that supported Clinton.
Even though he has been in the Senate for more than three decades, Biden doesn’t have a residence there. Instead, he takes the train each day from his home in Wilmington, a 90-minute ride. That practice dates back to when Biden first became a senator. Just prior to being sworn in for his first term, Biden’s wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident, and he took the oath of office from the bedside of his two sons, Beau and Hunter, who were injured in the collision. He contemplated quitting, but instead chose to maintain his home in Wilmington with his sons and commuted
A Pennsylvania native, Biden also could help Obama win over the voters in that critical state, which went to Clinton in that state’s primary. His working-class background – Biden is the son of a car salesman – also could help him latch on with voters in key battleground states such as Ohio and Michigan.
Saturday morning, Obama’s campaign released statements from three Republican senators friendly to Biden, in an apparent effort to reach out to GOP voters.
“No one on the Democratic side knows more about foreign policy than Se
n. Biden,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., known as a moderate Republican. “He’s been an articulate spokesman on the subject. He also knows about domestic policy. He’s been a leader on crime control.”
Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Richard Lugar of Indiana joined Specter in praising Obama’s selection of Biden for the post. Hagel is an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, and Lugar has clashed with the White House over the war.
During his time in the Senate, Biden also chaired the Judiciary Committee and presided over the contentious U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Robert Bork, who ultimately fell out of contention for the chief justice job, and Clarence Thomas. Thomas did get picked but underwent strenuous scrutiny involving allegations of sexual harassment.
Biden was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee from 2001 through 2003 and returned to the panel’s top spot in January 2007 when Democrats resumed control of the Senate.
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