With Biden, Will Rewards Outweigh Risks?

DENVER — Barack Obama's presidential campaign turned a corner on this pre-convention weekend, and it may never be the same.

Until now, Obama's outfit has been a close-knit and disciplined crew, capable of keeping a schedule and a secret. Part crusade and part cult, it has combined the ardor of its many disciples with the professionalism of its inner core. That mix reflects the essential contradiction of the candidate's own style: his cool demeanor generates passion at least among his devotees.

Now, the Obamans have welcomed a very different personality into their midst. They have embraced the flamboyant Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, whose loquaciousness is nothing short of legendary.

The process by which Biden entered the Obama tent was itself a triumph of tight-lipped control. The campaign vetted vice presidential prospects and picked Biden without the world finding out at least until the final hours.

The ultimate idea was to reveal the choice only via text message to Obama supporters, and that did not quite work. The also-rans on the short list leaked when told they were out, while the gathering of the clan at Joe Biden's home in Delaware made it clear he was in. So the electronic media got to spill the beans several hours before the text message was transmitted.

Even with that glitch, the Obama gang could take pride in rewriting the rule book on a running mate rollout (not to mention adding untold thousands of new cell phone numbers to its database). They should savor the moment, because with Biden on board, that kind of restraint will be far harder to enforce.

It's not that Biden can't be a team player. He has been a senator for three-and-a-half decades, after all, so he knows how to be a prima donna within a larger opera. When it's important to hang together to be effective, Biden can do it.

But he is not the sort to stick to a script. From time to time, his lively spirit and fits of temper have led him astray, especially in moments of stress. Even more common are the occasions when his sheer verbal dexterity takes over and he simply talks himself out of an audience or into trouble.

Of course, this is only one of the ways in which Biden stands in strong contrast to Obama. He also counters Obama's evocation of youth and a fresh future. The running mate got started in politics in the 1960s and made it to the Senate before Obama was out of grade school. While Obama is about a decade younger than the typical new president, Biden is a dozen years past the average age of new vice presidents at inauguration (53).

Biden also has exactly those career strengths that Obama lacks: longevity, legislative leadership and foreign policy experience. He can go toe to toe with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in depth of knowledge about the Russian-Georgian conflict, just to cite one example.

Biden also appeals to a different and complementary part of the voter spectrum. Born and raised Catholic in Scranton, Pa., Biden sounded not the least bit ironic shouting "God protect our troops!" at the Springfield rally over the weekend. Biden stands a better chance of connecting with those working class white voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) who preferred Hillary Clinton in the primaries. And this is the demographic Obama must win over if he is to carry these critical states.

So Obama and his high command, in their careful calculus, measured the potential benefits of Biden against the firebrand's risks. The question now is whether, with Biden on board, they will ever feel themselves as completely in charge of their own destiny again.



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