Obama chooses Biden as running mate

Presidential nominee picks Washington insider with a pro-Israel record, rich foreign policy experience.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama tapped Delaware Senator Joseph Biden as his vice presidential running mate on Saturday, choosing a Washington insider with a pro-Israel record and rich foreign policy experience. Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, is a seasoned congressional veteran well-versed in foreign policy and national security issues, which will help blunt Republican attacks on Obama's lack of experience in these areas. Biden left his Delaware home at midday to fly to Springfield, Illinois, for the first joint appearance by the newly-minted Democratic ticket that offers a blend of change and experience. In Springfield, Obama hailed Biden as a "leader who is ready to step in and be president." Before a vast crowd spilling out from the front of the Old State Capitol, Obama said Biden was "what many others pretend to be - a statesman with sound judgment who doesn't have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong." Obama has slipped in the polls recently in the face of sharp criticism from Republican rival John McCain, a veteran Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war, over his preparedness to serve as commander in chief and handle foreign policy crises such as the recent Russian invasion of Georgia. The first-term Illinois senator's choice of running mate clearly is intended to counter some of that criticism. Biden, 65, is a 35-year Senate veteran who has twice run for president. Biden's straightforward style and working-class Catholic roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, were also expected to help Obama appeal to middle- and working-class voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania that favored Clinton in the primaries. Matt Dorf, the Jewish outreach coordinator for the Democratic National Committee, welcomed the announcement and cited Biden's strong Israel credentials. "Joe Biden has proven himself to be a strong and passionate supporter of Israel through his long Senate career," Dorf said. "People say all the time, 'Israel has no better friend than...' and fill in the name of a politician. But with Biden, it's not just a line. Israel would have no better friend in the vice president's office than Joe Biden." Dorf pointed to Biden's many trips to Israel over the last 36 years, and his ties with the Jewish community. He also was well received when he delivered an impassioned foreign policy speech to National Jewish Democratic activists last year while still in the presidential race. In 2001, during the second intifada, Biden defended Israel's actions of targeted killings against members of terrorist organizations, saying that if they were targeting Americans, "our FBI would target them, attempt to find them, and if could not capture them would use lethal force to deal with them... so I don't call that assassination... We would track them down and find them and if we could not capture them, we would kill them." A key voting group that Obama needs to shore up is Democratic voters who supported his rival Hillary Clinton, who was especially favored by Jews. They were particularly impressed by her experience and longer record on Israel. Shai Lamdan is one such voter who will be casting his ballot in the key swing state of Colorado, also the site of the Democratic National Convention, which begins on Monday. Lamdan, who is very active in the Denver Jewish community, originally supported Clinton. He had been inclined to vote for Obama even though he was his second choice, but felt better going with the Democratic candidate after Biden's name was added to the ticket. "Obama I thought was capable. I just don't think he has the experience," Lamdan said. "Biden's record in the Senate will give credibility to Obama, so that makes me more confident in voting for him." Democrats quickly coalesced around the selection of Biden while Republicans recycled the Delaware senator's less-than-favorable past descriptions of Obama during the Democratic primary campaign. Biden abandoned his own bid for the presidency earlier this year after trailing badly in the polls. Clinton called Biden "an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the Obama-Biden ticket would "bring the change" the US needed. McCain called Biden, his longtime Senate colleague and friend, to congratulate him, McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said. "It was a brief conversation. They've known each other for years," he said. But McCain's campaign wasted no time trying to turn the selection to Obama's disadvantage. It quickly produced a television ad featuring Biden's previous praise for McCain and comments critical of Obama. In an ABC News television interview last year, Biden had said he stood by an earlier statement that Obama was not yet ready to be president and "the presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training." "There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden," McCain campaign spokesman Ben Porritt said in a statement. "Biden has denounced Barack Obama's poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing - that Barack Obama is not ready to be president." Some of Biden's Republican colleagues in the Senate praised the Delaware Democrat, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska called Biden "the right partner for Barack Obama" and the decision "good news for Obama and America." The Obama-Biden rally was held at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, where Obama kicked off his presidential campaign nearly 20 months ago. It is also where his hero Abraham Lincoln once served before he - a relatively inexperienced Illinois lawmaker - was elected president in 1860. Before the announcement was made, speculation swirled around a list of potential running mates that included Govs. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas. Officials close to Sen. Clinton said she was never formally vetted for the No. 2 position. The former first lady, who finished narrowly behind Obama in the primaries, will address the convention Tuesday night and her name will be placed in nomination even though she has endorsed Obama and has urged her delegates to support him. "Sen. Biden will be a purposeful and dynamic vice president who will help Sen. Obama both win the presidency and govern this great country," Clinton said in her statement. Biden has established a generally liberal voting record and a reputation as a long-winded orator. As a member of the Judiciary Committee - he was its chairman from 1987 to 1995 - he has played a key role in considering anti-crime legislation, Supreme Court nominees and constitutional issues. While the war in Iraq has been supplanted as the campaign's top issue by the economy in recent months, the recent Russian invasion of Georgia has returned foreign policy to the forefront. Last weekend, Biden visited Georgia in his capacity as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman at the request of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for meetings with government officials as well as citizens forced to flee their homes. Biden was elected to the Senate at the age of 29 in 1972, but personal tragedy struck before he could take office. His wife Neilia and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed when a tractor-trailer truck broadsided their station wagon. Biden took his oath of office for his first term at the hospital bedside of one of his sons injured in the car accident. Biden dropped out of the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination after a poor finish in the leadoff Iowa caucuses in January, but not before he talked dismissively of joining someone else's ticket. He had stumbled on his first day in the race, apologizing for having described Obama as "clean." Months later, Obama spoke up on Biden's defense, praising him during a campaign debate for having worked for racial equality. It was Biden's second try for the White House. The first ended badly in 1988 when he was caught lifting lines from a speech by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. In the ensuing years, Biden became a power in the Senate, presiding over confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court nominees as well as convening hearings to criticize President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war. Biden voted to authorize the war, but long ago became one of the Senate's surest critics of the conflict. He won praise for a plan for peace in Iraq that would divide the country along ethnic and sectarian lines. Ironically, perhaps, his son, Beau, attorney-general of Delaware, is due to spend a tour of duty in Iraq beginning this fall with his National Guard unit. AP contributed to this report