The Case for Joe Biden


by Chris Cillizza

With Barack Obama rumored to be nearing a vice presidential pick, there is NO candidate hotter than Sen. Joe Biden (Del.).


The decision to name former governor Mark Warner (Va.) as the keynote speaker for the Democratic National Convention seems to suggest that Gov. Tim Kaine is falling from the top tier. The “security” theme of Wednesday night at the convention, the same night the vice president will speak, seems to suggest that the veep pick will be someone with a deep resume. And, the notoriously loquacious Biden — and his campaign team — has been preternaturally quiet over the past few weeks, a silence that is fueling rumors that he is the pick.

Today we make the case for Obama to pick Biden. Tomorrow we offer the opposite argument.

Foreign Policy First

There’s no one in the Democratic Party who knows more about foreign policy and is as comfortable speaking about it as Biden.

Bideb and Obama
Sen. Barack Obama huddles with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, in Jan. during a hearing on Iraq. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Biden has done several stints as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and during the Democratic primaries he spoke passionately and intelligently about Iraq while also framing the way in which America needs to position itself in the post-9/11 world.

For Obama, whose only obvious weakness in the race is his light foreign policy resume, Biden would provide an immediate boost and badly complicate John McCain’s attempts to paint the Illinois senator as ill-prepared to represent the United States on the world stage.

Here’s a snippet from Biden’s comments about McCain during a conference call last month: “He doesn’t get it. The mere fact that you would have someone compare the circumstances now, in the past, or in the future, of Iraq to the ending of World War II and the ending of the Korean war absolutely demonstrates a total fundamental lack of understanding of what the problems America faces.”

That quote (and others like it) suggest Biden can — and would — go toe to toe with McCain (and whoever the Arizona Senator chooses as his running mate) over conflicts across the world, relationships with foreign leaders and vision for the future of the country.

One other potential foreign policy benefit to Obama in picking Biden. The Delaware senator has known McCain for the better part of three decades, meaning that he knows ever nook and cranny, every nuance of the positions that the Arizona Senator has taken over that time. That means the Obama campaign can call McCain on any sort of foreign policy flip flop by using Biden, a credible messenger on the issues.

Average Joe

It’s a strange thing to say about a guy who has spent 36 years in the Senate but Biden genuinely has appeal to the blue-collar, working class voters that Obama struggled to attract during the Democratic primaries.

Maybe it’s Biden roots in hard-scrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Hello, Michael Scott!) Maybe it’s the fact that Biden takes Amtrak home to Delaware every night and knows the name of all the conductors and ticket agents on the route. Maybe it’s the fact that his personal story — his wife and daughter were killed a month after he was elected to the Senate in 1972 — resonates with people who have suffered similar losses.

Regardless of what it is, there’s little question that, in the words of one Biden advocate, he passed the “have a beer” test. That is, Biden is the kind of guy most voters can imagine themselves having a beer (or, heck, a boilermaker) with — a crucial hurdle when it comes to electing a president. (George W. Bush, widely dismissed by elites, was elected to two terms due in no small part because he was perceived as far more of a regular guy than either Al Gore or John Kerry.)

Biden’s ability to connect with blue collar voters would almost certainly help Obama in Pennsylvania (aside from Biden’s roots in Scranton, he has been a regular figure on Philadelphia television during his campaigns) as well as potentially in Ohio and Michigan as well.

It’s also worth noting that Biden is a strong Catholic. Obama lost white Catholics badly to Hillary Rodham Clinton during the primary season and, as Post pollster Jon Cohen notes, white Catholics have emerged as one of the bellwether groups in recent elections; the candidate who wins white Catholics has won the presidency in every election since 1972.

Charismatic Campaigner

It’s hard to remember now but back in 1987 when Biden first ran for president he was the hottest commodity in the Democratic Party — the bright young star who would lead on the national stage for years to come.

That wasn’t to be but in the intervening years Biden has lost none of his charisma and ability while adding the heft that comes with decades spent in the political mix.

During the primary season, Biden surprised many observers — The Fix included — by winning a number of crucial endorsements in Iowa despite the fact he was a decided longshot. In fact, in the days leading up to the caucuses, there was some buzz that Biden could shock the world and end up in the top three thanks to the energetic and effective campaign he ran.

Ultimately Biden fell well short, a finish that had more to do with his inability/unwillingness to raise the money necessary to compete with the Big Three of Obama, Clinton and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) than his own campaign skills.

As the vice presidential nominee to a candidate who looks likely to shatter every fundraising record there is, Biden will be freed from the burden of cash-collection and will be allowed to devote full time to stumping for the ticket.

And, when it comes to the crucial vice presidential debate on Oct. 2 in St. Louis, it’s hard to imagine a more tested and able candidate than Biden. Biden got almost no air time during the nearly two dozen Democratic debates (as befitted his second tier status) but was still able to make lemonade out of lemons more often than not.

He thinks quickly on his feet, is extremely well versed on the issues of the day, and, most importantly, knows how to inject a bit of humor into the proceedings. The only knock? Biden tends to be a bit long-winded — but more on that tomorrow in the case against him.

Attack Dog

There aren’t all that many tasks for the vice president. Advocate for the presidential nominee, stump in off-the-beaten track places, and, most importantly, attack the other party’s candidate.

Recent political history is littered with vice presidents who either couldn’t or wouldn’t play the attack dog role. Allies of Kerry (Mass.) still complain that Edwards didn’t do enough to hit President Bush and Vice President Cheney during the 2004 campaign — perhaps out of fear of hurting his own presidential chances if Kerry came up short.

Biden’s main rival at this point for the vice presidency — Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh — has been dogged by questions of whether picking him would be a repeat of Kerry naming Edwards; Bayh, a tremendously popular figure in Indiana politics, hasn’t had a race in which he had to get down and dirty, well, ever, and is clearly interested in being president down the line.

Biden, on the other hand, will be 66 years old when and if Obama is sworn in next January and, according to various sources on Capitol Hill, is perfectly content to spend the remainder of his days as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. In other words: He has exorcised the presidential bug.

Picking Biden then would virtually ensure that Obama would not have to worry about whether the vice president was constantly trying to position for a national race of his own down the road.

Add to that Biden’s clear willingness to deliver attacks. During the primaries, Biden was one of the rare candidates willing to throw an elbow from time to time — although always with a smile on his face and a kind word for his foe.

In that, Biden most closely resembles Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) whose polite demeanor masks a hard-edged commitment to delivering sharp and effective attacks. Given the real potential that Lieberman could be McCain’s pick, Obama would be smart to go with Biden to neutralize the Connecticut Senator’s well-earned reputation as a skilled attacker.

As always, this piece is meant to spark conversation, so feel free to agree, disagree, condemn or compliment in the comments section below. (Looking for past “case for/case against” pieces? You can find them in our “Veepstakes” category.)

Tomorrow: The case against Biden.

By Chris Cillizza |  August 13, 2008; 1:09 PM ET

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Filed under Barack Obama, Joe Biden, ObamaBiden08

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