Biden pick draws Democratic praise, GOP criticism in N.C., nation
Posted August 23, 2008 10:44 a.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2008 8:11 a.m. EDT
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Democrats quickly coalesced around Sen. Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate on Saturday, while national and North Carolina Republicans recycled the Delaware lawmaker's less-than-favorable past descriptions of his new political benefactor.
As the newly minted ticket readied for its first joint appearance, in Springfield, Ill., former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton called Biden "an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant." Clinton, Obama's most persistent rival through the primaries and the caucuses, was an also-ran in Obama's vice presidential search.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Obama-Biden ticket will bring the change the country needs, including a filibuster-proof Senate majority. Biden's approval as running mate is assured, his selection an attempt by Obama to balance the ticket with a seasoned senator, widely regarded for his foreign policy expertise.
Sen. John McCain, Obama's Republican rival in the race for the White House, called Biden, his longtime Senate colleague and friend, to congratulate him. However, McCain's campaign wasted no time trying to turn the selection to its own purposes.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said Obama’s decision has made the campaign “real interesting and a whole lot more fun.”
"Joe Biden is just what the country needs. He’s a straight shooter, smart and a hard worker. We’ve worked together on numerous criminal justice issues and talked in depth about education. He is an expert in foreign affairs. I consider Joe to be a good friend to me, law enforcement and to North Carolina,” Easley said in a statement Saturday.
Political commentator and democratic supporter Barlow Herget said Biden could attract North Carolina voters with campaign stops and his experience.
“Sen. Biden brings one of the best foreign policy minds outside of Richard Lugar. He knows foreign policy and he knows foreign leaders,” Herget said.
North Carolina Republican leaders echoed the McCain camp's criticism, arguing that Biden's strengths on foreign policy and years in the Senate highlight Obama's purported lack in those areas.
"By choosing a man who has been one of his harshest critics on the issue, Obama merely further exposes his own flaws," Linda Daves, chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in a statement.
"On one of the central questions facing voters in this election – is Barack Obama ready to be commander-in-chief? – even his own running mate says he fails the test. Joe Biden is right about one thing. The country will be better off with John McCain as President."
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-District 12, said that with Biden on the ticket, Obama will face a tougher time in North Carolina.
"North Carolina is still a conservative state. ... If Obama was going to make a serious play in Southern states, he would have chosen a southerner," McHenry said. "It doesn't matter what kind of verbal gymnastics the Obama campaign plays. With the choice of Joe Biden, it's clear that North Carolina is not going to be in play on Election Day."
McHenry called Biden a "Northeastern liberal" and said he and Obama are "ideological twins," particularly on taxes and abortion.
Those critcims echoed an television ad quickly produced by the McCain campaign. The ad features Biden's previous praise for McCain and comments critical of Obama.
During an ABC debate in August 2007, Biden had said he stood by an earlier statement that Obama wasn't yet ready to be president and "the presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."
Biden drew praise from some Senate Republicans, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, with whom he has worked closely over the years. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., called Biden "the right partner for Barack Obama" and the decision "good news for Obama and America."
The Democratic National Convention opens on Monday in Denver and will formally anoint Obama and Biden as the party's nominees later in the week.
The Obama-Biden rally was set for the old state Capitol where the Illinois senator kicked off his presidential campaign nearly 20 months ago. Aides said the candidates would be joined by their wives and the Bidens' three adult children, Hunter, Beau and Ashley.
Biden made the trip from his home in Delaware by chartered jet, pausing long enough to wave to well-wishers gathered to see him off.
The Obama campaign sent a text message announcing his choice to supporters' phones and e-mail addresses about 3 a.m. EDT, the latest innovation by a tech-savvy operation that has deftly used the Web as a fundraising and organizing tool. A meticulously planned rollout was pre-empted when word of Obama's choice was reported on Friday night.
Bill Burton, a spokesman for the campaign, said Obama had called Biden on Thursday to offer him the vice presidential spot on the ticket. Michelle Obama placed a call Saturday morning to Biden's wife, Jill, to congratulate her.
But the secret held for more than 24 hours as speculation swirled around a list of potential running mates that included Govs. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Rep. Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas.
Biden, 65, is a creature of Washington, a 35-year Senate veteran and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee whose national security credentials will help patch a hole in Obama's relatively thin resume. Polls show that McCain holds a wide lead over Obama on the question of who is better prepared to be commander in chief.
Biden's straightforward style and working-class Catholic roots in Scranton, Pa., were also expected to help Obama appeal to middle- and working-class voters in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania who favored Clinton in the primaries.
Officials close to 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 the 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 issues by the economy in recent months, the recent Russian invasion of Georgia has returned foreign policy to the forefront.
Biden was elected to the Senate at the age of 29 in 1972, but personal tragedy struck before he could take office. His wife and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed when a tractor-trailer broad-sided her station wagon. Biden took his oath of office for his first term at the hospital bedside of one of his sons.
Biden dropped out of the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination after a poor finish in the Iowa caucuses, 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 in 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.
Liz Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Mike Glover in Sedona, Ariz., contributed to this report.