8/23/2008

The Veepstakes: Joe Biden (repost)

(NOTE: This post was originally published on The 7-10 on July 19, 2008. Now that Barack Obama has officially chosen his running mate, this post should serve as a primer on who Joe Biden is and how he enhances his ticket. A second analysis examining the new Obama-Biden ticket will be written in the near future.)

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.

3 comment(s):

Mindy said...

Hi. My brother reads and shares your blog with me so I didn't just stumble across it. I have to say that I have been skeptical of Obama from the beginning--I don't react to simple messages of "hope" or "change." Change is inevitable simply because Bush will be out. But reading this particular post about Biden makes voting for Obama a little more palatable for me. Thanks.

Anthony Palmer said...

Mindy,

Thank you for the comment. Who is your brother? Does he regularly comment here? I think the strength of Biden is his appeal to people looking for someone who actually knows policy. I too am not moved by inspirational speeches because you don't need a president to do that. So I think Obama-Biden can appeal to the dreamers and the pragmatists at the same time. If McCain wants to choose the same tack, it would seem that he'd pick Mitt Romney. But Mike Huckabee is a much more inspirational speaker, I believe.

Thomas said...

Hi Anthony. Yeah, Mindy is my sister and additionally my law partner.

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.