Why Biden Might Not Be A Totally Safe Choice Joe Biden brings experience to the Democratic ticket, but he also comes with potential baggage. Senior Washington editor Ron Elving explains why a vice presidential candidate must avoid coming on "too strong."
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NPR's Ron Elving tells Jacki Lyden why Biden might not be a totally safe choice on 'All Things Considered'

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Why Biden Might Not Be A Totally Safe Choice

NPR's Ron Elving tells Jacki Lyden why Biden might not be a totally safe choice on 'All Things Considered'

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The choice of Joe Biden was designed to address many of Barack Obama's weak spots, and Biden's speech today was crafted to appeal to as many of those audiences as possible. And reaction to the choice has varied across the board.

Joining us to sort through that reaction is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving, who's in Denver awaiting Monday's start of the Democratic Convention. Hello, Ron.

RON ELVING: Hi, Jacki.

LYDEN: Was there any surprise left about this announcement?

ELVING: Yes. There did seem to be quite a bit of surprise on the part of some people, even here in Denver, even within the party. And, of course, the pick had been telegraphed for the last several days, perhaps all week, and leaked out several hours before the official text message went out early this morning.

But still, a lot of people woke up today and probably had somebody else in mind; thought it was going to be somebody else. Maybe they had placed a bet someplace that it would be someone else, and they were a little bit surprised to hear it was Joe Biden.

LYDEN: What have we heard from the other potential choices for vice president? Has anybody weighed in?

ELVING: Yes. All of them have weighed in and they've all made the usual sort of salutes and tributes, Senate courtesies and so on and said that they think Joe Biden was really the best pick all along, and they're glad to see him get the nod.

LYDEN: Is that sincere? What about the supporters of Hillary Clinton? They're nearly half the convention delegates after all.

ELVING: After all. They are virtually half the delegates and I think a lot of them are still very disappointed and nothing would've satisfied them other than having Barack turn around and say, I think it has to be Hillary Clinton because of her 18 million votes and because of her very many delegates and I'm going to turn to her to help me win this presidency.

That's what they were waiting to hear. They didn't hear it; there was never any indication that she was on his short list, of course. But this was probably the choice he could make that would probably be least offensive to many of them because Joe Biden was never a Hillary-basher in the long primary season. He remained neutral in the contest between her and Obama after he ended his own candidacy earlier this year.

And he's had a long history with her in the Senate and there's really no reason for people to take it as a poke in the eye to the Hillary supporters.

LYDEN: Well, we're hearing that Democrats have coalesced pretty quickly around this choice. And what's the positive reaction that you've heard in Denver?

ELVING: It's the experience - they like the idea that he has more experience and more foreign policy expertise in particular, shoring up the ticket in those two exposed areas. I think they also like the man's ability to add a little bit of life to the ticket and to overcome perhaps what some people as the excessive coolness of the Obama campaign.

Joe Biden is not excessively cool. He comes on hot and heavy; he's good at the slash and burn. And there's a risk associated with that. If you have a vice president who comes on a little bit too strong, maybe tries to outshine the nominee a little bit - the body language between the two of them in Springfield today, you couldn't really tell which one was supposed to be the presidential nominee and which one the vice presidential.

But they need someone to go back at the Republicans in what looks like it's going to be a real rough and tumble campaign, and today Joe Biden proved he's ready to do that.

LYDEN: Yes. They even got mixed up there for a moment, as to who was going to be the presidential candidate and the VP candidate. What about the Republicans, Ron, the time we have left? It didn't take much time for the McCain campaign to respond early this morning. Here's the ad they put up on YouTube shortly after 3:00 a.m.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Man: What does Barack Obama's running mate say about Barack Obama?

Mr. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (Moderator): You were asked, are you ready? You said, I think he can be ready but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.

Sen. BIDEN: I think that I stand by this statement.

ELVING: You know, they were all over it, Jacki. The Republicans pounced immediately on those bruising remarks that Joe Biden made about Barack Obama back during the debates and the competition of last winter when there was a much larger field of Democratic candidates. And Joe Biden has been a friend of John McCain for a number of years in the Senate - they go back a long way.

And on several occasions Biden's tried to kind of lure McCain to change parties and to come over to the Democratic, for example, to run as running mate with John Kerry in 2004. So we're going to hear a lot more of these older statements by Joe Biden in the days ahead, probably right up to November 4.

LYDEN: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks for joining us in Denver.

ELVING: Thank you, Jacki.

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