Biden, Obama's Pick, Enters National Arena Anew

As Democrats head into their nominating convention in Denver, they've already had their first look at the 2008 ticket. Barack Obama appeared in front of the old state capitol in Springfield, Ill., Saturday with his pick, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

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As Democrats head into their nominating convention in Denver tomorrow, they've already had their first look at the 2008 ticket. Senator Barack Obama appeared yesterday in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, with his long awaited choice, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. NPR's senior national correspondent Linda Wertheimer has more on what brought Joe Biden to this moment.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Joe Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972, an upstart upsetting a longtime senator. Biden went from the New Castle Delaware County Council straight to the U.S. Senate. He was only 29. Biden's biography is irresistible. Barack Obama introduced Biden by telling that story and the next part, the terrible part.

(Soundbite of speech)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Then tragedy struck. Joe's wife, Neilia, and their little girl, Naomi, were killed in a car accident. And their two boys were badly hurt. When Joe was sworn in as a senator, there was no ceremony in the Capitol. Instead, he was standing by his sons in the hospital room where they were recovering.

WERTHEIMER: Biden considered resigning from the Senate before he even got there to care for his children. The compromise was to take the train home to Delaware every night from Washington. His boys recovered. They're grown men now. Biden still takes that train home every night. Biden's career has had its own highs and lows. He ran twice for president. The first time he was out of the race early after lifting some lines from a speech given by a British Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock.

(Soundbite of speech)

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): And what I would do out on the stump, I'd say I saw a tape from Neil Kinnock where he stands there, and he's angry, and he looks out at his people, and he says, why am I the first Kinnock ever to go to a university? It doesn't take much if you feel that, folks. I saw that and it was a connect. I mean, I could tell how that man felt, and that's how I feel.

WERTHEIMER: But Biden did not always credit Kinnock, and that mistake cut short his campaign. Biden remade his career in the Senate serving as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee, and in 2008 he tried again to run for president. He never made it out of the second tier of candidates, but some voters liked his directness. I watched a CNN debate with Democratic activists in New Hampshire in June of 2007. Megan Kaufman(ph), who worked for the state senate campaign, thought Biden broke out of the pack at that debate.

Ms. MEGAN KAUFMAN (Democratic Activist): But he won points. Those of us that are involved in the process recognize that it's Hillary, Obama and somewhat Edwards are the frontrunners and who's going to break out of that fourth tier? And I think that Biden was strong tonight, and made some great strides at doing that.

WERTHEIMER: But several times during the campaign, Biden had to explain himself. He made remarks about Barack Obama that many thought were offensive. Those concerns were raised in a debate that same year in Des Moines. Biden defended himself with some surprise help from Obama.

Senator BIDEN: I get the overwhelming majority, over 95 percent of the vote, of minorities in my state. My credentials are as good as anyone who's ever run for president of the United States on civil rights.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator OBAMA: I just wanted to - I just want to make a comment. I've worked with Joe Biden. I have absolutely no doubt about what is in his heart and the commitment that he has made with respect to racial equality in this country.

WERTHEIMER: When he was introduced by Obama in Springfield, Biden referred to his bumpy ride in politics.

Senator BIDEN: My mom and dad raised me to believe - it's a saying, Barack, you heard me say before, my dad repeated and repeated. He said, champ it's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how quickly you get up. It's how quickly you get up.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, that's your story. That's America's story. It's about if you get up, you can make it.

WERTHEIMER: Biden should bring some blue-collar credibility to the campaign, which polls show Barack Obama could use. And Biden's record suggests that he may add some drama to the campaign as well. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Denver.

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Biden Strong On Foreign Policy, National Security

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 9. i i

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 9. Biden has served several terms as chairman of the committee. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 9.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 9. Biden has served several terms as chairman of the committee.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Election 2008

Joe Biden bio box

Through four decades in the U.S. Senate, Joseph Biden, 65, has honed a reputation as a heavyweight on foreign policy and national security and a strong debater, if one sometimes prone to verbal gaffes.

Biden was born in Scranton, Pa., to a working-class family — his father was a car salesman — and was raised in the suburbs of Wilmington, Del. He attended Syracuse Law School.

In 1972, at age 29, he became one of the youngest people elected to the Senate. A month later, he faced personal tragedy when his wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident, leaving Biden a single father of two young sons. Biden remarried five years later.

Biden is unarguably a Washington insider, yet he's never actually moved to the city, instead commuting home to Delaware by train every night. He is Roman Catholic, yet favors abortion rights.

Biden has twice run for president himself, first in 1988, when he dropped out after being accused of plagiarizing British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. Soon after he suffered an aneurysm, but he fully recovered.

Early in his 2007 bid for the presidency, Biden found himself apologizing to rival Barack Obama after a remark some found racially insensitive. He had called Obama "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." During the primaries, Biden also claimed Obama was "not yet ready" to serve as president, a line that will no doubt be rehashed now by Republican rivals. Biden never went far with his candidacy, coming in fifth in Iowa.

Biden's legislative career is long and varied. He helped write landmark legislation that set up shelters and a national hotline for abused women, and another law that put 100,000 police on the streets in the mid-1990s. He served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995, leading opposition to the controversial Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Biden has served several terms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he heads now, and has substantial contacts with world leaders. Just last weekend, he accepted an invitation from Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili to visit the former Soviet republic during its tense standoff with Russia. Biden originally voted for the Iraq war but has since come to be a fierce critic of President Bush's policies in Iraq.

Biden complements a Democratic ticket in areas that polls show Obama is weak — he has gravitas, foreign policy experience, knowledge of the inner workings of Washington, and an appeal to working-class voters. While he has clearly harbored presidential ambitions, Biden would presumably be too old to run again if Obama were elected and served two terms.

Where Obama is nuanced, Biden may also have a greater ability to talk tough against rivals in public debate. But the senator is also known to get carried away with the sound of his own voice, digressing into irrelevant personal anecdotes. Referring to this during the recent series of Democratic debates, moderator Brian Williams asked Biden if he had the "discipline" to be president, to which Biden delivered perhaps the best-received line of his candidacy: "Yes."

Biden is up for re-election to his Senate seat this year but could run for this spot while also campaigning on the Democratic ticket.

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