Week In Review: Obama's Running Mate

NPR's Linda Wertheimer and Ron Elving discuss the choice of Joseph Biden as Barack Obama's running mate with NPR's Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The match-up for November is almost set. Senator Barack Obama and Senator Joseph Biden versus Senator John McCain and a player to be named later. We're joined now from Denver, where the Democratic Convention is going to open on Monday, by NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer. Linda, thanks for being with us.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thank you for being with us.

RON ELVING: It's good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: If I could ask you each in turn, just your reaction to Senator Biden's selection.

WERTHEIMER: It seems to me that it's kind of an obvious pick, and a pretty good pick. He brings to the ticket foreign policy experience, and many years in the Senate. I guess you could call that a good thing and a bad thing because he certainly is not the new change sort of candidate that Mr. Obama wants to be, but he does fill in one of the blanks for Mr. Obama, which, it seems to me, counts for a lot. Obama said he wanted someone who complemented him, who completed him. And I think Joe Biden does that.

And the other thing I think he brings is the mouth. I mean, he is a mouth, and that could mean that he could be a great veep-attack dog, or it could mean that, you know - he could be the attack veep, I should say - and the other one would be that I think he does have real blue-collar appeal. I think people, generally speaking, like him. They think he speaks his mind and tells the truth.

SIMON: Ron?

ELVING: You know, Scott, I think that there is a liveliness factor here that may be a kind of hidden plus. Usually, you don't want a vice-presidential candidate who has too much personality. You want somebody who is pretty well decaffeinated and will not compete with the main nominee for attention. But in this case, I think the Obama cool and all of the attention he's gotten for it maybe has run its course and that at this point, the ticket needs a little shot of juice, and it's going to get that from Joe Biden.

SIMON: Speaking of juice, we have been talking about the fact, I think, ever since his name came up, that he can be astonishingly eloquent. He also sometimes can't find the off switch, and he's even, in the course of the past few months, he's muttered things, whether referring to Senator Obama as clean, or some remark about you always run into Indian accents at a 7-11, something like that.

Somebody helpfully came up with something this morning, that four years ago, he was urging John Kerry to name John McCain as his running mate. Now, this is the kind of thing that people can have some fun with in politics, isn't it?

WERTHEIMER: Well, I think there's a lot to be said for having some fun with things in politics.

I mean, I guess nobody cares what I think, I mean, whether he would be my favorite choice, but I think that for a lot of journalists, he will be a good choice - is a good choice because, you know, he's going to give us things to talk about from time to time. I think there's just no question that every once in a while, he's going to put a foot wrong. I mean, why wouldn't he?

But the other thing that he had done, one of my strongest memories of Joe Biden in action was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as we were contemplating invading Iraq. And he kept saying, as is his want over and over again, what about the morning after? I have no doubt at all that we can be in Baghdad inside a week, but what about the morning after? Will somebody please tell me, is there a plan? And you know, he was right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELVING: You know, Scott, one thing about people who have quite such a, perhaps, proclivity to prolixity as Joe Biden, is that he talks so much and says so many things that if he does stick his foot in it once in a while, it's not going to be the end of the world. What the risk is here for Barack Obama is that suddenly, the heightened attention and seriousness that will attach to anything Joe Biden says, might actually cause that to become a bigger problem than it's ever been just for Biden himself.

WERTHEIMER: But people don't really, really care as much about who the vice president is as much as they do care about who the presidential candidate is. So I think that he enlivens the atmosphere here, but I don't necessarily think he could knock anybody off.

SIMON: Linda and Ron, Senator Hillary Clinton issued a very graceful statement this morning, saying she was glad to learn of Senator Biden's appointment and expressed, obviously, her continued support for the entire ticket. But just - was it even 24 hours ago - some of her most ardent supporters were complaining that they felt she'd been done a disservice, she's been treated with disrespect by not entering into even the final stages of the vetting process. How is this nomination of Joe Biden - selection of Joe Biden - going to be received by what are, after all, just about half the delegates there in Denver?

WERTHEIMER: It seems to me they are divided into two groups. There are the completely loyal and very angry Hillaryites, and there are the Hillaryites who want to see a Democrat elected president. And I think there are probably more of the latter than there are of the former, but the former have been making themselves heard and felt. I do think that apart from picking her, there is really nothing, no one, that Senator Obama could have chosen that would have eased the pain of the Hillary supporters.

So I think, you know, Biden, somebody else, whatever, if he didn't pick Hillary, they're not going to be - the ones who are unhappy are going to remain unhappy.

ELVING: Yes, I think that's right. I think there's only one way to placate that group, and that way was one that Obama, I think, discarded very early in the summer and decided against, and there was really no point in stringing her along by making it look as though he was seriously considering her. And I think, in this particular instance, Joe Biden's characteristics of experience and his connections to the working class should be of some relief to that group that Linda also referred to, who want to see a Democratic president and who will vote for Obama to be that.

SIMON: Recognizing that the three of us don't know anything - well, all right, Ron and I, maybe, not you, Linda.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: No, no, I associate myself with the remarks of my colleagues.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Does the selection of Senator Biden by Sentaor Obama make it more likely that Senator McCain will go outside the Senate for his running mate?

WERTHEIMER: I should certainly hope so. All Senate all the time, I mean, that would just be awful. I think that this means, you know, he'll look at governors, he'll look at former candidates who were not in the Senate, he'll look at people who would bring perhaps the same sort of - I mean, he may not need anybody to liven up his campaign, he seems to be able to manage that for himself, but I think he will then look out to reach for maybe a state that he needs or maybe a constituency that he needs. But I think he won't pick a senator.

ELVING: I think the big decision for McCain at this point is whether he goes with someone who is for abortion rights or someone who is not, someone who is as pro-life as John McCain has always been. And right now, that's the big question mark over his decision, and it's really a hot one within the Republican Party. We'll be talking about that a lot more a week from now.

SIMON: What about the significance of Senator Obama releasing the name of his choice by text message? A lot of anxiety this week and even certainly some jokes about it, but I wonder if this says something about either the Obama campaign or what politics has become or any of that?

WERTHEIMER: It's fascinating, isn't it? But I think that basically, the Obama folks made a game plan and they stuck to their game plan. They didn't talk about it and didn't talk about it and nobody leaked anything, and then all of the sudden, in the middle of the night, here it comes, in time for the morning news cycles like this program, and I....

SIMON: We like to think we were specifically in mind when they came up with that strategy.

WERTHEIMER: No doubt, there's no doubt in my mind. But I think that they did what they set out to do and maybe, you know, maybe it sort of makes a statement to - the way that the Obama campaign has reached out through the Web to all of these givers that have given him so much money, it's reaching out to them again and saying, you ought to be the first to know. Here it is.

ELVING: Just real quickly, I think it's going to be harder for the Obama campaign to be this well-disciplined now that it's going to include Joe Biden.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Thank you very much, Ron and Linda.

ELVING: Thank you.

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Barack Obama Chooses Sen. Joseph Biden For VP

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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.

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