DENVER—In the end, Joe Biden may be more valuable to Barack Obama as a senior adviser in the White House, if the ticket wins in November, than on the campaign trail this fall.
But there also are immediate political advantages for Obama from choosing Biden as his running mate. Obama, in fact, followed the example of George W. Bush when he picked Dick Cheney as his VP in 2000. Cheney came from Wyoming, which the Republicans had a lock on anyway, in the same manner that the Democrats appear to have a lock on Biden's state of Delaware this time around. Both choices were designed to make up for the same vulnerability of the nominees on foreign policy and national security issues. Cheney had been defense secretary under President George H. W. Bush. Biden is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has a reputation for expertise in international affairs.
In political terms, each VP nominee was selected to be reassuring to the nominee's base—conservatives for Cheney, liberals for Biden. Biden is a six-term senator from Delaware who comes from a Catholic, working-class background and was brought up in the key swing state of Pennsylvania. He should be popular among traditional Democrats and working-class whites who have questioned Obama's lack of experience and are uncertain whether or not he understands their problems.
Biden is a silver-haired orator with a flair for the dramatic whose words have occasionally gotten him into trouble. On Saturday, he showed that he could serve as the attack dog that many Democrats believe Obama needs in taking on Republican John McCain. At a rally in Springfield, Ill., after Obama introduced him as his running mate, Biden said McCain is out of touch with the problems of ordinary Americans and would continue the policies of the unpopular Bush.
Biden referred to McCain's recent failure to remember how many houses he owns—the Democrats say it's seven—and said that if McCain ever had to figure out how to pay his bills, as many American families do, he would first have to figure out "which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at."
For his part, Obama told the rally, "I can tell you that Joe Biden 'gets it.' He's that unique public servant who is at home in a bar in Cedar Rapids and the corridors of the Capitol, in the VFW hall in Concord, and at the center of an international crisis. That's because he is still that scrappy kid from Scranton who beat the odds; the dedicated family man and committed Catholic who knows every conductor on that Amtrak train to Wilmington." (Biden commutes by train daily between Washington and his Wilmington home.)
It's unclear how the Biden pick will go over with supporters of Hillary Clinton, who narrowly lost the delegate race to Obama. Clinton die-hards argued that she had earned the right to be Obama's No. 2.
David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, told ABC News's George Stephanopoulos Sunday morning that Obama "felt Senator Biden would be the best fit for him.... He picked Joe Biden because he felt Joe Biden was the best partner." This suggested another parallel to Bush and Cheney in 2000—the desire to name someone as a sidekick who would have the proper chemistry and a high level of trust with the nominee, and who would help him govern most effectively if elected.
In recent elections, vice presidential nominees rarely have made a huge difference. Americans vote for or against the presidential candidate, not the No. 2. Even when the vice presidential candidate doesn't go over well, as happened with Dan Quayle as the first President Bush's running mate in 1988, the No. 2 isn't decisive. Bush, for example, solidly won that election anyway.
The latest ABC/Washington Post poll has Obama leading McCain nationally 49 percent to 43 percent. Axelrod said the election offers Americans the choice between "more of the same and the change that we need."
A veteran Democratic strategist told U.S. News Sunday that the Biden nomination will unify the party because he shares essentially the same philosophy and policy views as both Obama and Clinton. In addition, the strategist said, "Biden is pugnacious, and that's something Obama will need as he goes up against the Republicans this fall."