The Veepstakes: Joe Biden

Delaware Senator Joe Biden was probably the greatest candidate nobody heard of in the 2008 primary season. Even though Joe Biden was ranked as the secondmost underrated candidate after Bill Richardson last fall, the veteran senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was mired in the back of most polls and placed a disappointing fifth in the Iowa caucuses.

His debate performances were mostly sharp, as he eschewed partisan rhetoric and empty promises for the sake of being honest about this nation's challenges and even offering specifics to match his solutions. He won a lot of plaudits for his federalization policy regarding Iraq, which remains as the plan with the most specifics when compared to John McCain's "We are winning and we can't surrender" rhetoric and Barack Obama's "We have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in" rhetoric. His Democratic rivals often found themselves agreeing with him--a point not lost on the Biden campaign which subsequently created a compilation of these praises entitled "Joe is Right."

Biden's presidential campaign may be over, but he has been getting a lot of buzz as of late about being at or near the top of the Obama veepstakes. I have long argued that Biden had a good shot at being chosen because he was such a formidable candidate even though he underperformed in Iowa. Here is what I wrote back in January when Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses:

"As for Biden, should Obama win the nomination, do not be surprised if Obama considers him as his running mate because the message of Obama '08 is quite similar to the message of Biden '88 and adding Biden to the ticket would lend Obama's presidential campaign some much needed pragmatism and experience to assuage voters who are not content solely with his message of "change." Ironically, the final reason why this might not be such a far-fetched possibility is because of Biden's mouth. Short of choosing a Republican, the selection of Biden as his running mate would be the ultimate showing of the unity of Obama's message. This is said in reference to Biden's stepping all over his own campaign rollout by referring to Obama as "clean and articulate." Obama-Biden would be the Democratic version of Huckabee-McCain and would make for a spectacular general election campaign."
Let's examine these points in greater detail:

To start, Biden passes the Commander-in-Chief test. His record of public service covers more than three decades. Thus, he could not be pegged as a political greenhorn the way Obama is being pegged. Voters who have reservations about Obama's inexperience should be assuaged by Biden's years in Washington because Biden could serve as a sort of old hand behind the scenes. Republicans could not call him a Washington insider either because John McCain has been in government for almost as long. And attempts to portray Biden as the center of political gravity in an Obama White House would be retorted with questions about Dick Cheney's power in President Bush's White House.

Foreign policy is Biden's strongsuit. John McCain has a tremendous edge over Barack Obama when it comes to international affairs and foreign policy knowledge. Biden should help blunt this by compensating for Obama's perceived weakness on the subject. Combining Obama's international appeal with Biden's pragmatism regarding world affairs may prove quite formidable.

Hillary Clinton's supporters will likely be upset with anyone Obama chooses who is not named Hillary, but they may find Biden more acceptable because he created the Violence Against Women Act. John McCain has been making a play for disaffected Clinton supporters, but may have lost them when he was unable to answer a question about why birth control was not covered by insurance even though Viagra was. Contrasting this with Biden's Violence Against Women Act should be enough to keep most of Clinton's female base solidly behind Obama.

Even though Biden hails from a small state that traditionally votes Democratic, he could be a tremendous help to Obama in the Midwest. Biden is a carbon copy of the "bitter" voter who "clings" to guns and religion. Thus, Biden should have great appeal in rural Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. He should also help keep New Jersey out of reach for the Republicans. Biden is a gun owner and would likely be seen as more credible on gun rights than leading Republican veep prospect Mitt Romney. And voters who are still uncomfortable with Obama's demographics and religious views should find Biden, an Irish Catholic, considerably more reassuring. That would give him another edge over Romney, whose faith may be viewed with skepticism. And in terms of his lifestyle, Biden uses public transportation to commute home from Washington every night instead of a private jet. So he is most definitely not an elitist.

Short of choosing Governor Tim Kaine, Joe Biden would likely present Democrats with the best chance of stealing Virginia in November. He is well known throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and could appeal to voters in the rural southwestern part of the state, which is similar to central Pennsylvania and southern Ohio. It is also worth noting that southwestern Virginia is quite similar to western North Carolina. If Biden can keep McCain's margins among rural and White voters (also known as John Edwards' base) down in North Carolina while Obama cleans up among Blacks and younger voters in the college towns of Raleigh, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Winston-Salem, it is conceivable that North Carolina could turn blue. And if that were to happen, this election would be over.

Like Obama, and unlike Evan Bayh, Biden is a talented public speaker with a good sense of humor and a folksy style. His biggest problem is his tendency to be long-winded and to put his foot in his mouth on occasion. However, I would argue that his foot-in-mouth tendencies would be a benefit to Obama in that by virtue of being chosen by Obama, it would show that Obama simply doesn't care about these gaffes. And if Biden's boss doesn't care so much about it, then perhaps the media and voters shouldn't care so much either. That would help keep the media from focusing so much on any awkward statements Biden may make.

The other problem Biden will have to deal with is renewed criticisms of plagiarism from his 1988 campaign. However, at a time in which violence is increasing in Afghanistan, banks are going bankrupt, and people are paying $70 to fill their gas tanks, voters might not care so much about a politician not giving proper attribution in a speech he made twenty years ago.

In short, Biden should definitely be in the top three on Obama's shortlist. He is a policy heavyweight who appeals directly to the rural White voters Obama is struggling with. He also has no real negatives that the GOP can exploit without looking like hypocrites and brings little in the way of baggage. And unlike Hillary Clinton, Biden and Obama genuinely like each other. Many Democrats who lamented the demise of the three most experienced Democrats this primary season (Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd) would react with glee to this pick. And Republicans would probably react with horror because he is both a defensive and offensive pick who shores up Obama's base and threatens McCain's.

Obama would be wise to give Joe Biden serious consideration.

9 comment(s):

Anonymous said...

You like Senator Biden too much! He's been on all of the Sunday "political talking heads" shows so much over the last few years that I get tired of seeing him there! He also often comes across as a grumpy old man who would also neutralize John McCain's negatives of also being a grumpy old man. Obama frequently talks about "change" in the White House and about "change" in all of politics, but Senator Biden couldn't be more "part of Washington Beltway politics" if he tried! Biden isn't "change"! Finally, when is truly having two U.S. Senators running as a Presidential ticket ever a winning combination (and I ask the same question about Senator McCain, who may also end up picking a U.S. Senator as his final VP choice)?

John D said...

You know, I like Biden. I think that he has accomplished a lot (taking into account he is a senator), but I believe Obama's right choice (if politics wasn't involved) is Bill Richardson. This Time Magazine article makes the case for a Hillary VP, and I believe that if she is not chosen as VP, there will be some drawbacks for Obama. However, I really don't know the tradeoff in not picking her, but I do know that there will be some in the Obama camp equally upset if he were to choose her. Anyways, back to Bill (Richardson). He brings in a whole heck of a lot of experience in foreign policy, which, in my theory, is one of the few aspects of affairs that the president has a good deal of control over. At this point in time, I feel that foreign affairs are important, and we could better overcome our domestic problems with a better foreign policy.


Anthony Palmer said...


If being a senator doesn't represent "change," that would mean that Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh should be struck from the list as well. This would leave governors and former/retired politicians. So Bill Richardson, Kathleen Sebelius, Janet Napolitano, and Sam Nunn would fall in that category.

As for McCain, I think most of his top prospects are governors. Romney, Jindal, Palin, Crist, and maybe even Sanford are all outsiders.



I used to be bullish on Richardson, but he has turned out to be a terrible candidate and a poor campaigner. His resume is solid, but the candidate doesn't live up to it.

Black Political Analysis said...

I'm a big Biden fan. He is one of few Democrats that can speak with authority on foreign policy. Actually, that's not true, but GOP'ers and Independents respect him, so that's half the battle.

But, as Anonymous says, Biden does not represent change.

Obama is better off with another 50'ish or 40ish governor or senator. The two can form a wonkish Clinton/Gore type team, a Bayh or McCaskill type.

Brett said...

I like Biden, but how often has he been correct on foreign policy? And does it present the right kind of knowledge on foreign policy? Biden looks like one of those guys who before recent events would probably be called an "intellectual UN-lover" in a bad way, but that may have lost some of its negatives in recent years.

Other than that, he's mostly a fine candidate. My only other slight disagreement with you, Anthony, is on your belief that having him - with his tendencies for foot-in-mouth and long-windedness - would be an advantage as some kind of authenticity. One of the things Obama seems to be aiming for is to run on his strengths in terms of message and delivery in controlled events, which is why his campaign has tried to minimize the number of uncontrolled settings like debates. Having Biden on would dampen that a bit.

Anthony Palmer said...

Dr. King,

Bayh and McCaskill are both strong picks. Bayh has been a governor before and cannot be pegged as another Northeastern liberal. He is a known quantity and a disciplined politician, so he will not cause Obama any harm whatsoever. He could be of great help in the Midwest and would likely deliver the John Edwards demographic and help in southwestern Virginia.

McCaskill could deliver Missouri, but she might draw the ire of Clinton diehards who feel insulted that Obama chose a woman not named Hillary. But I think that's just bluster. She could not easily be pegged as a Washington insider because she's a first-term senator just like Obama is. And the two of them really have good personal chemistry.

The biggest problem with both picks, however, is that they are both strong senators from red or purple states that not just any Democrat could win. Missouri has a Republican governor, though that will probably change after the election. And Indiana has a Republican governor as well. The prospect of losing a safe Senate seat may give Obama and Democrats pause. The governor of Deleware, however, is a Democrat. So I'd give Biden the inside track here.



Point taken about Biden's message discipline. The point I was trying to argue was that his past gaffes, such as calling Obama "articulate" caused a mini-firestorm that distracted everyone. Should Obama choose him, that would show that what Biden said wasn't so bad and that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and that maybe everyone should just take a deep breath and focus on what's really important instead of being hypersensitive about perceived racial slights.

By the way, has anyone noticed how little buzz Clinton is getting as of late?

Michael Rodgers said...

Nice job as usual, Mr. Palmer.

You said, "Short of choosing Governor Tim Kaine, Joe Biden would likely present Democrats with the best chance of stealing Virginia in November."

I really like Gov. Kaine, and I hope Sen. Obama picks him. Here's a video of Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Gov. Kaine endorsing Sen Obama.

I do like Sen. Biden a lot, too. However, I didn't like his partition plan for Iraq.

I surely would love it if Sen. Obama would win some states in the south.


Michael Rodgers
Columbia, SC

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

and i will not post a tractate so email me if u desire additional clarifi

Anthony Palmer said...

Mr. Rodgers,

How is Kaine doing in Virginia? I know he's fairly popular there, but was having a lot of trouble getting the transportation problems in northern Virginia straightened out because of the GOP-controlled state legislature that is loathe to raise taxes.

Kaine is definitely an outsider with some street cred on the economy and could probably hold his own against Romney (the likely VP pick for McCain) in a debate. But he adds very little in terms of national security/military credentials. So Biden would trump him there.

But then again, governors are more appealing than senators...



I got your e-mail. But I'm not sure what to make of it. Please elaborate.

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