8/24/2008

Obama-Biden Analysis

After a dramatic buildup, Barack Obama has chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. The senior senator from Delaware was long considered a frontrunner for the #2 spot on the ticket because of the ways in which he compensates for Obama's weaknesses. Early reaction to Biden's selection have generally been positive. His chances probably rose from probable to definite in light of the recent crisis in Georgia and the stature gap between Obama and John McCain when it comes to leadership and strength.

Electorally, it seems that the main strength of Biden will be to turn and/or keep all states north of the Ohio River blue. Virginia and North Carolina may become a bit more winnable as well. Obama would be wise to dispatch Biden to Appalachia and the rural areas of the Midwest. His blue collar appeal would be a tremendous asset in southern Ohio, southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, and the labor towns of Indiana and Michigan. Because Obama and Biden have such different personal narratives, Biden could serve as an ambassador of sorts that humanizes Obama or at least de-exoticizes him to these blue collar voters who may have reservations about his character and commitment to their causes. This will be particularly helpful in Michigan because that is the state John McCain needs to pick off if he wants to win the election.

Biden also helps shore up the Democratic base. As a veteran senator and familiar face, Biden brings a lot of reassurance to the Obama ticket. The reassurance factor matters a lot to Democrats who were only lukewarm about Obama to begin with. After all, a lot of these Democrats were torn between Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson during the primaries. After they dropped out, Hillary Clinton probably got most of their votes even if they didn't like her so much. But now that Biden is on the bottom half of the ticket, these voters who are not moved by talk of "change" will probably feel a lot more comfortable (and perhaps enthusiastic) about Obama's candidacy. Even the Hillary Clinton diehards have to grudgingly accept Biden because "inexperience" was one of their main complaints about Obama.

One of the enduring criticisms of Joe Biden is that his mouth has a tendency to get him in trouble. Everyone who follows politics regularly remembers how Biden stepped on his own presidential rollout by calling Obama "clean" and "articulate." Biden has also had a tendency to venture into awkward territory, such as claiming that Delaware was a "border state." (The implication here was that it was more similar to the Old Confederacy than the liberal Northeast. Smart politicians stay away from such imagery.)

However, these criticisms may be overblown. Obama has put his foot in his mouth by calling voters "bitter" and saying they "cling" to guns and religion. He also inartfully claimed that the discussion of when life begins was "above his pay grade." John McCain owns "bomb bomb bomb Iran" and awkward responses to questions about the availability of birth control and how many houses he owns. So it seems that Biden is no more prone to verbal slip ups than the other candidates in the race. And the fact that he was able to keep the news of his veep selection under wraps so well suggests that he may be more disciplined than what he's given credit for.

Another criticism is that Biden is a veteran senator that directly contradicts Obama's message of "change." The task for Obama would be to portray Biden as a reformer who has not been corrupted by the ways of Washington. This would seem like a foolish line of attack, however, because John McCain has been in Washington for more than 20 years himself. Biden and McCain would cancel each other out, thus leaving Obama with the outsider mantle to himself. Complaints about Biden being the brains in an Obama administration would be met with reminders that George Bush did the exact same thing with Dick Cheney.

Note that all of these criticisms concern identity or personality issues, rather than actual political issues. This suggests Republicans will try to defeat Biden by creating a caricature of him as a long-winded loose cannon. They have been successful in reducing Obama to an elite celebrity and turning one of Obama's strengths into a weakness. However, that might be a bit more difficult to do with Biden.

Joe Biden cannot be painted as an out of touch elitist and he will excoriate anyone who attempts to peg him as one. His tenacity will compensate for Obama's gentility. He will not let any attack go without a retort, a point not lost on the McCain campaign. So McCain will have to reconsider his future attacks on Obama and be prepared for increased counterattacks that may not be so predictable.

Now that John McCain knows who Obama's running mate is, he has the luxury of adjusting his own running mate selection accordingly. Since the Democratic ticket will consist of two senators, McCain can attempt to seize the outsider/change mantle by tapping a non-Washingtonian. This bodes well for current and former Governors Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Tom Ridge. However, because of the pugnaciousness of Biden, McCain will need to choose a running mate tough enough to debate him. That would seem to take the soft spoken Pawlenty out of the running. Biden probably takes Pennsylvania out of play, but Tom Ridge would be a bold choice that could put it back in the contested category. However, the Republican base would not take kindly to a pro-choice running mate. That's why Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman won't be McCain's running mate either. This is unfortunate for McCain because he has very good relationships with both Ridge and Lieberman.

So it looks like Mitt Romney will occupy the final spot in the presidential Final Four. If this materializes, the former Massachusetts governor had better get ready because the vice presidential debate against Biden will likely end up neutralizing one of the two campaigns' messages. And given Biden's strong performances in the debates thus far this season, the Obama campaign has to feel pretty good about its chances.

6 comment(s):

DB said...

This is a good analysis (as always, right?). To be honest, I have been kind of skeptical of the vague message of change from the Obama camp as it comes with little information about what this change is other than "not Bush". Tapping Biden as VP makes some of my core issues with Obama disappear (especially the inexperience). I seriously hope McCain goes against the grain and goes with Lieberman, Ridge or Romney now. Romney is safe because with Biden as VP, the far right Evangelicals certainly won't be staying home on election day even if Romney is picked. They know what is in store with Biden and I am sure they don't like it. While that might be seen as a negative for Obama, pulling moderates in like me with Biden should cancel that out.

Brett said...

Don't forget the "Senate Seat" advantage in picking Biden as well. Biden's senate seat is more or less guaranteed to a Democrat come 2008 (it wouldn't surprise me if he won the seat even while campaigning for Obama), which means probably that at least a freshman rookie Democrat will be holding the seat in 2008 if Obama wins.

Considering that the Democrats are trying to win as many Congressional Seats as possible (particularly a solid Senate majority), that's something that can't be sneezed at.

It'll probably be Romney, but Romney is a veritable gold mine for attack ads (pun intended - see if you can figure it out). Hell, McCain's done all the work for him; the Democrats could easily paint Romney as a flip-flopper and dishonest using videos uncovered and used by the McCain campaign in the primaries.

Mark in Austin said...

Anthony, I was five when I listened with my dad to Tom Dewey boom out from our eight tube radio "IT'S TIME FOR A CHANGE." Because I was five, I was more impressed when Truman said "Dewey, Hooey!"

I still think "Change" is not much of a central message. Biden's first speech as VP nominee seemed to me to herald the repositioning of the campaign.

S.W. Anderson said...

Another criticism is that Biden is a veteran senator that directly contradicts Obama's message of "change."

The media began pushing that notion when it only looked as though Biden was a hot prospect for No. 2. I think it's something the GOP wants emphasized — and fittingly lame.

Imagine someone with cancer insisting on having a surgeon who also has cancer, or has had it. Imagine someone in financial trouble looking for a bankrupt attorney to handle his bankruptcy case. Dumb and dumber, right?

Why, then, should we expect Obama to recruit a carpet installer and part-time state legislator from E. Jesus, Neb., to be his V.P., the better to bring about change? It's just idiocy.

Ah, but did I ever hear just that kind of idiocy being flogged with a vengeance on CNN and by Chris Matthews on CNBC.

You want to talk epic, monumental, firmament-shaking change, I'll give you one of the greatest agents of change to occupy the White House since FDR took over from Hoover.

I'm talking about Lyndon Johnson, who in a sustained and almost superhuman campaign based on conscience and principle over politics, got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 through Congress and signed into law, all the while knowing it was going to cost himself and his party plenty for at least a generation.

LBJ didn't fall off a pumpkin truck and land in the White House. He was the quintessential insider, with a history going back to the New Deal and a resume that included being the most effective Senate majority leader ever.

Indeed, most senators, including ones from the deep south and border states, owed LBJ, one way or another. The fact he was able to call in so many chits from so many people is a big reason those crucial acts got passed. No one else could've pulled that off. No one.

LBJ delivered change like few have ever delivered change. And the change he brought about is a big reason we have a black Democratic presidential candidate with a credible chance of becoming president.

That simple historical fact, all by itself, should be enough to destroy the whole lame, illogical "Biden undermines Obama's change message" meme once and for all.

Black Political Analysis said...

It's simple. Obama picked Biden, not to appeal to his Democratic base, but to undecided white voters. Many will feel reassured knowing that Biden is in the room with Obama when important foreign policy decisions are made.

Anthony Palmer said...

DB,

Thanks a lot. Regarding McCain's VP selection, I'd really be surprised if he chose a pro-choice running mate. The fallout at the convention among evangelicals would destroy the momentum McCain has been building and give rise to a whole bunch of new storylines about GOP discontent. There are a lot of ideological conservatives who will actually sit this election out in protest because they want the Republican Party to stay true to its principles, one of which, they believe, is being pro-life. We shall see.

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Brett,

I think the Senate seat issue is probably what destroyed Evan Bayh's chances.

I got the Romney pun. I'll return serve with a pun of my own. Democrats would have a wealth of past comments that would undercut McCain's message, especially as it pertains to Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden attacking Obama during the primaries and John McCain's message on the economy. And do you remember Mike Huckabee talking about Romney: "Do you want to have a president who reminds you of the guy who gave you a job, or the guy who laid you off?"

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MIA,

I agree that "change" is not a central message. Obama already owns the issue in this election, but now needs to give voters a reason other than that to vote for him. Michelle Obama did a good job of humanizing their family, but this really puts the onus on Obama to flesh out exactly what an Obama presidency will mean. I agree that Biden's first speech was probably the first step in spelling this out.

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Dr. King,

Yes. It was a safe choice that gave him access to most Hillary Clinton voters without Hillary Clinton. It was also a defensive pick to appeal to national security voters and all voters who worry about the inexperience angle.

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SWA,

I think Obama could claim Biden is an agent of change by portraying him as uncorrupted by Washington. Remind voters that he took public transportation back home to Delaware almost every night while he was in Washington and that he is the least wealthy senator with humble roots. How you convey a message often has more influence than what the message actually is. That's how Kerry lost. He wasn't a war hero, he was an America hater. Because his opponents were more vigorous in their criticisms of his service. The veracity of their claims was secondary. So perhaps there's wiggle room in Biden's case as well.

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.