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Analysis by Jim Lobe

Now, The Running Mate Dilemma

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- In picking six-term Senator Joseph Biden as his vice presidential running-mate, Sen. Barack Obama hopes to plug some key gaps in the electoral constituencies whose support he hopes will send him to the White House in the November elections just 10 weeks from now.

Obama, who will be formally nominated as the Democrats' presidential candidate at the national party convention in Denver next week, desperately needs to plug those gaps given the steady slippage in the public opinion polls that he has suffered over the past month.

While he remains slightly ahead of Sen. John McCain in most polls, the gaps have been largely within the statistical margins of error, while the Republican has been making solid gains in specific "swing" states that are likely to be critical to the election's outcome.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- a position that he has held twice before as well -- Biden's presence on the ticket is aimed at reassuring those voters who are concerned about Obama's inexperience in that area. Indeed, Biden's selection was tipped off earlier this week in part by Obama's decision to send him to Georgia for an on-site inspection of the latest global hotspot.

Similarly, at nearly 66 years old, and with a formidable mane of white hair and some 35 years in the Senate, Biden is likely to attract older voters whose turnout in elections has traditionally been higher than other demographic groups and who have shown the greatest uneasiness about Obama as president and his "change" agenda.

As a Catholic with white working-class roots, Biden will also appeal to two other key Democratic constituencies that have too-often strayed from the party's ranks in national elections over the past 30 years and that have strong reservations about Obama's candidacy, generally preferring Sen. Hillary Clinton in this year's primary elections by significant margins.

Finally, Biden is plain-speaking and unusually direct -- if sometimes overly loquacious -- particularly when he is on the attack, a stance which makes him an excellent complement to a presidential candidate whose soaring rhetoric has been consistently positive, designed to inspire rather than denigrate.

"I refuse to sit back like we did in 2000 and 2004," Biden said after Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, when the first indications that Republicans were planning a campaign of unrelenting negative attacks on Obama's alleged softness or naivete on national security of the kind that worked so tellingly on behalf of George W. Bush against former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry.

"This administration is the worst administration in American foreign policy in modern history -- maybe ever," he declared in what may have been a preview of his main point of attack on Republican candidate Sen. John McCain and his staunch support for Bush's hawkish and unilateralist foreign policies over the last seven and a half years.

"Rather than whine about how mean Republicans are when they hit (Democrats) on national security, as so many Democrats do, Biden has a real talent for responding with an appropriate mixture of mockery and contempt," wrote Greg Sargent, a blogger on the influential website.

"Biden's charisma and authority on the subject add a ton of firepower to Obama's arsenal in this regard, allowing Biden to act as an extremely credible voice to deliver the message that the (Republican) approach to foreign policy in the 21st century has been a sad, sick joke."

But whether Biden's selection will help restore momentum to the Obama campaign as it heads to the Denver convention remains unclear.

The selection is sure to disappoint some Democrats who had hoped that Obama would see his way to choosing Clinton -- hopes that had been fueled by the apparent delay in announcing the choice which had originally been expected early last week. However, it also reassured some activists who were worried that Obama would opt for a right-wing Democrat associated with the hawkish Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), such as Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, one of the names on the shortlist of candidates known to have been under consideration.

In many ways, Biden marks an unconventional choice. Traditionally, Democrats, in particular, have sought balance in their national tickets -- either geographically, by choosing a northerner and a southerner (such as Georgia's Jimmy Carter and Minnesota's Walter Mondale or, more recently, Massachusetts' John Kerry and North Carolina's John Edwards), or ideologically, by choosing a liberal and a conservative.

In this case, however, Biden, like Obama, hails from the more-liberal wing of the party, and both are from the industrial northeastern third of the country -- Obama from Chicago, and Biden from the tiny mid-Atlantic state of Delaware, although he is a native of Delaware's much larger neighbor, Pennsylvania, which is widely considered among the three or four most critical "swing" states that could decide the election outcome.

The fact that Obama chose Biden strongly suggests that he believes his electoral fortunes rest on wooing white, working class voters that proved so elusive to him during the primary elections, the so-called "Reagan Democrats" who have been key to Republican victories since 1980 and who flocked to Clinton's banner in most of the primary elections. Many of them live in the so-called "Rust Belt" states of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey that stretch from Obama's Chicago to Delaware's coast.

"Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, have trouble connecting with working-class voters, especially Catholic ones," wrote the neo-conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks this week in a remarkably favourable profile of the presumptive vice presidential nominee. "Biden would be the bridge." Obama has fallen behind McCain among Catholic voters, according to the most recent surveys.

On his strong point, foreign policy, Biden, like Clinton, voted in favour of the October 2002 resolution that authorized the use of force against Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Unlike Clinton, however, Biden both repeatedly cautioned against going to war until UN inspectors completed their work in the run-up to the 2003 invasion and later admitted that he regretted his vote.

He has since been a staunch critic of the war, arguing over the past year that Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than Iraq (whose effective partition he advocated until recently), constituted the "central front" in the war on terror, a position adopted by Obama himself.

He has been an unapologetic backer of the United Nations and multilateral institutions in general, along with the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Richard Lugar, with whom he has long enjoyed a close working relationship.

Biden has himself sought the presidency twice. He was leading contender for the Democratic nomination in 1988 until he was caught plagiarising a speech by British Labor leader Neil Kinnock and subsequently dropped out of the race. He also ran for the nomination this year but dropped out after a fifth-place showing in the earliest caucus despite a strong showing in several debates.

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Albion Monitor   August 22, 2008   (

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