Obama Explains His Choice, Reacts To Palin

Tells 60 Minutes Biden "Can Step In And Become President," Calls McCain's VP Pick An "Up-And-Coming Public Servant"

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Labor Day weekend has always been considered the unofficial beginning of a presidential campaign, and while this one has been going on for a year and a half, both parties finalized their tickets this past week.

With the kids going back to school and parents back to work, the nation is focused on what many people think is one of the most important U.S. elections ever.

60 Minutes is covering the Democrats, who concluded an historic convention in Denver this week by making Senator Barack Obama of Illinois the first African-American ever nominated for president by a major party.

60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft conducted the first joint interview with the candidate and his running mate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, this past Friday, Aug. 29, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Sen. Obama went into the Democratic convention locked in a dead heat with Republican rival John McCain and needed to do three things: introduce his running mate to the country, draw sharp distinctions between himself and his Republican opponent, and unify a Democratic party badly split by a bruising primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. By most accounts he accomplished all three.

He attracted 84,000 people to Invesco Field in Denver and another 40 million to their television sets all across America - more American saw his speech than watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

We began our conversation with the new Democratic candidates backstage just moments after the most improbable nominee had given the most important speech of his young career.

Asked if he ever doubted it was going to happen, Sen. Obama told Kroft, "Of course."


"Well, let's see. About a year ago we were down 30 in Iowa. But I never doubted that it could happen. I never doubted that if we were able to mobilize the energy that you saw in that stadium," Obama said. "All across the country."

"I knew it was gonna happen before he did. I was running like the devil. I watched. I thought I was pretty good, but I watched. I watched. This guy just sort of grabbed the lightening, ya know, just grabbed it. And you could tell, Barack, I tell ya, my team knew, I knew in August," Sen. Biden told Kroft.

"We were doing okay. But this is exciting," Obama remarked.

"Were you surprised to be up here?" Kroft asked Biden.

"I was surprised, I'm truly honored to be up here. I'm a great admirer, we're friends and we fit," Biden said.

By the time Kroft continued the conversation with them the next day in Pittsburgh, the landscape had already changed: Senator McCain tried to steal the Democrat's thunder by announcing that Alaska's conservative first-term governor, 44-year-old Sarah Palin, would be his running mate - a move widely seen as an attempt to try and siphon disaffected supporters of Senator Clinton and blue collar voters in battleground states where Obama has been the weakest.

And a few hours after McCain's announcement, Senators Obama and Biden seemed as surprised as everyone else.

Asked what he thinks of McCain's vice presidential choice, Obama told Kroft, "She seems to have a compelling life story. Obviously, she's a fine mother and an up-and-coming public servant. My sense is that she subscribes to John McCain's agenda."

"Does the fact that he chose as his vice president someone what has less experience than you take that weapon out of his arsenal?" Kroft asked.

"Well, you know, I think that's a good question to address to Senator McCain," Obama replied. "Of course, the issue of experience is going to be relevant. And if I were running against me, that's something that I would try to make an issue of as well. Particularly if I had been in Washington as long as John McCain had."