Democrat Barack Obama has tapped Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware to run as his vice presidential candidate. NPR's Ina Jaffe, who is traveling with the Obama campaign, talks with Scott Simon about the choice.
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Check your text messages because you may have gotten the lead story of the day just as soon, if not sooner, than most reporters. Senator Barack Obama revealed his choice for running mate earlier this morning in text messages. Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware will join Mr. Obama on the Democratic ticket. NPR's Don Gonyea joins us from Springfield, Illinois, where there's going to be a rally in about three hours for the Democratic ticket. Don, thanks for being with us.
DON GONYEA: Hi, glad to be here, Scott.
SIMON: You're on the grounds of the Old State Capitol?
GONYEA: Well, I'm in a long queue with hundreds of other reporters, Scott, waiting to get onto the grounds of the Old State Capitol. The event is still about three hours away. The senator - I should say the senators are not here yet, the presumptive nominees. So, what you have now is kind of, you know, all the hubbub that takes place before one of these carefully planned events.
SIMON: We heard a beep. Is your battery dying? Not your personal battery, but the one on your cell phone.
GONYEA: Well, I hope not. It should be good. But I can't tell you how many pagers and buzzers and beepers are within about five feet of me. So it could have been any one of them.
SIMON: Where does the Obama campaign see Senator Biden as making them stronger? I think the phrase they are putting out today is "completing Senator Obama." And where do you, as a reasoned analyst, see some holes left to fill?
GONYEA: Well, in terms of where he makes them stronger, it is, you know, the question that lingers there about Senator Obama, and we see it in poll after poll. If he has a weakness, it's that people think he's such a newcomer. They don't know a lot about him. They're not sure that his time in the Illinois State House, just a few blocks from here, and less than one term in the United States Senate qualifies him to take on the really tough global challenges that are out there.
Senator Biden, of course, six terms in the Senate, a foreign policy expert, very highly regarded in that area. He provides the balance. What we don't know is what holes there (unintelligible) are to fill. I mean, he does not bring, you know, real connections to a big swing state like Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania or Florida. So Senator Obama is going to have to, you know, speak to those states largely on his own. Of course, Senator Biden does have a lot of blue-collar appeal that might play well in those states. But that, I think, is still the big question mark.
SIMON: Almost half the delegates meeting in Denver, whom you will meet later, were sent there pledged to Senator Hillary Clinton. What does this do to reconcile their affection for the ticket?
GONYEA: That is another thing that we just don't know at this point. I mean, in the past few days, Senator Clinton has been out there campaigning for Senator Obama, doing events. And, you know, it's fair to say that the response she gets when she urges them to support the ticket and support Senator Obama is not always as strong as the Obama folks would like it to be and, I should add, as strong as they perhaps will need it to be, especially in swing states.
Now, Senator Biden is the kind of guy who would have a lot of natural appeal with those voters. But, you know, it's still going to take time, as the Obama campaign says, and as Senator Clinton herself says, for a lot of these folks to come around. Some are still licking their wounds after her loss.
SIMON: NPR's Don Gonyea at the grounds of the State Capitol - the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. You know, they invented the corndog there, Don.
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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.