Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has chosen Sen. Joseph Biden — a man with working-class roots, but a long record of working in Washington's halls of power — as his vice presidential running mate.
At their first campaign appearance together, in Springfield, Ill., Obama praised Biden as "that rare mix — for decades he has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn't changed him."
Obama stressed the aspects of Biden's biography that make him a valuable balance to the ticket. He touched on the Delaware senator's blue-collar roots and his Roman Catholic faith. Obama also praised Biden's strength in foreign policy and defense matters and his history of working on issues in a bipartisan way.
Elements of Biden's legislative career that Obama chose to highlight included his work on the 1994 crime bill and the Violence Against Women Act.
"Joe Biden is what so many others pretend to be — a statesman with sound judgment who doesn't have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong," Obama said.
In his speech, Biden sought to link Republican rival John McCain squarely with the policies of the unpopular President Bush. Biden also displayed another asset he could bring to the Obama campaign, his wit as a political adversary. Biden spoke of discussing the nation's problems over his kitchen table, then drew attention to the flap over the number of homes McCain owns, saying McCain can't decide which of seven kitchen tables to sit at.
The Obama campaign made its announcement on its Web site and in text messages early Saturday morning, after news reports said Biden had emerged as the likely choice. That came after three other contenders, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, reportedly were told they had not been selected.
Biden brings the Obama campaign name recognition that might have taken longer to develop for some of the candidates who have been on the vice presidential short list. One source of that name recognition, however, is that Biden has run for president twice himself, and both those bids offer ammunition for Obama's opponent.
As Obama's rival in 2007, Biden also criticized the youthful senator from Illinois as "not ready" to be president and lacking in foreign policy judgment, comments the McCain camp pounced on for use in its first television ad after Biden's name was announced.
Obama's choice of Biden as his running mate has drawn praise from fellow Democrats, including the one whose opinion may matter most, Hillary Clinton. Obama's rival for the Democratic nomination was mentioned for the second spot, but never appeared to be in the running for it. She hailed Biden as "an exceptionally strong, experienced leader" who will make a "dynamic vice president."
Republican response ranged from sour to gracious. House GOP leader John Boehner criticized Biden for his stand on energy issues, saying Biden has "proven his opposition to an 'all of the above' energy reform strategy to lower fuel costs for families and small businesses." Sen. Dick Lugar, Biden's Republican colleague on the Foreign Relations Committee, congratulated Obama on his choice and praised Biden for his bipartisan approach to U.S. foreign policy.
A key question remaining is how Obama's choice of Biden is likely to affect McCain's running-mate decision. Biden is known as a forceful and sometimes blunt campaigner who could mount effective attacks against the Republican team while Obama remains above the fray. McCain may go with someone who can also talk tough, such as GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
Since Obama balanced his relative youth with the experience of the 65-year-old Biden, McCain may seek to balance his age with a young candidate, such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Jindal, 37, would bring the added advantage of being a governor in a field of senators. If Obama's choice of an older white man could be seen as an effort to reassure older white voters, Jindal's heritage as an Indian-American could bring diversity to the McCain ticket.
McCain is thought to be looking at several other governors or ex-governors, among them Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, who is a Catholic and social conservative. Mitt Romney and Tom Ridge could bring the McCain campaign business and gubernatorial experience.
In a game that's already extremely close, Obama has now played his VP card, and it's a sure bet that McCain is taking a close look at his own hand.