Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden: Safe, savvy choice. But does it matter?

Sen. Joe Biden was a safe and savvy choice for a vice presidential candidate to run with Barack Obama. But unless the choice is someone voters believe unfit to step in as president, does the second name on a presidential ticket really matter?

Biden, 65, a six-term Delaware senator who has chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, brings decades of Washington expertise to the ticket. He's a blue-collar Catholic who was born in Scranton, Pa., a state expected to be a key battleground in November.  

What voters look for in a veep candidate is someone whom they're comfortable with as a fill-in president, in case something happens to the chief executive. They don't want a dumbbell, a crook (remember Spiro Agnew?) or anyone with unexamined skeletons in the closet. 

Joe Biden fits that bill. He's had his share of uncomfortable publicity, because he, too, ran for president– in 1988 and this year. But his gaffes have been extensively aired: In 1988 he gave a speech with wording suspiciously similar to one given by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.  In 2007, he got in trouble for saying, of Obama's candidacy, that he is "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." And campaigning in New Hampshire he said, "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."  It's easy to see why the guy didn't go into a career as a diplomat.

Some die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters are disappointed, of course. But choosing Clinton – if she would have accepted – might well have lost as many voters as it gained. She remains a divisive figure, and some undetermined number of voters simply aren't ready to vote for a woman. 

Joe Biden's not a guy who keeps his mouth closed. That could make for a more interesting campaign. Whether it will make the difference between victory and defeat for Barack Obama is nothing anyone can, at this stage of the campaign, say with any certitude.