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Obama On Biden: 'He Gets It'

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The newly minted Democratic ticket made a rousing debut Saturday as Barack Obama hailed Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as a formidable partner who combines working-class roots with a deft touch on foreign policy and national security.

Before a crowd of thousands gathered in front of the Old State Capitol, Obama said Biden was “what many others pretend to be — a statesman with sound judgment who doesn’t have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.”

For his part, Biden wasted no time in making clear that he will not be a shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his dismay over the policies of the last eight years.

John McCain would have to “figure out which of the kitchen tables to sit at” when considering his own economic future, said Biden, jabbing at the man he nonetheless calls his personal friend. 

The rally capped a whirlwind 24 hours in which Obama ended an intense and highly secretive search for a vice presidential nominee by settling on a choice calculated to offset some of the weaknesses in his own résumé. The product: A  ticket that marries messages of change and experience.
Obama announced the pick on his website in the wee hours of Saturday morning with a photo of the two men and an appeal for donations. The much-awaited text message went out shortly afterward, reading:  "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee."

Obama called Biden on Thursday night to offer him the running mate position, spokeswoman Linda Douglass said Saturday morning on the campaign plane en route from Chicago to Springfield.

Michelle Obama called Biden's wife, Jill, as well, Douglass said.

"They had a wonderful conversation," Douglass said. 

The two men will maintain separate campaign schedules until after the Democratic convention in Denver, when they will hit the road together for a few days.

Republicans were ready to pounce on the Biden pick. Less than 12 hours after Obama's choice became public, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis e-mailed out a fundraising appeal that began:

"Just hours ago Sen. Barack Obama announced he has chosen Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, adding his own harshest critic to the Democratic ticket. Sen. Obama's choice in a running mate once again brings up his questionable judgment when faced with making major decisions.

Sen. Biden doesn't believe that Sen. Obama is ready to serve as president. When asked about Sen. Obama's lack of experience, he said, 'The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training. The fact is, there has been no harsher critic of Sen. Obama's lack of readiness to serve than his new running-mate, Sen. Joe Biden."

Mere minutes after Biden wrapped up his maiden speech as Obama's running mate, McCain's camp and the RNC gleefully seized upon what they called a "Freudian slip" in Obama's introduction.

After almost doing it earlier in his speech, Obama got caught up in his closing crescendo and predicted that it's Biden who would be "the next president of the United States."

“Barack Obama sounded as though he turned over the top spot on the ticket today to his new mentor, when he introduced Joe Biden as the next president," quipped McCain spokesman Ben Porritt in an insta-statement. 

Obama's team remains confident about his choice. With Biden, Obama combines his mantra of change with one of Washington’s most seasoned hands. Now in his sixth term, Biden is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the fourth-longest serving Democratic senator. He ran for president for the second time this year, but dropped out after finishing sixth in the Iowa primary.

Biden’s selection nicely fills some of the gaps in Obama’s background. But while Biden, 65, made stridesduring the primary season on curbing his legendary penchant for leaving no thought unspoken, those who have watched him — and listened to him — over the years know the Obama team will spend some sleepless nights wondering what he might say at any given moment.

On foreign policy and national security, an area where John McCain regularly assails Obama’s lack of experience, Democrats offer few more seasoned practitioners than Biden. He’s distinguished himself in every important foreign policy debate in recent years, from Kosovo to Iraq, where he voted to authorize the 2003 invasion, but was careful to limit his support to an effort to remove Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (since unfound). And he’s been a relentless critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the conflict ever since.

“I regret my vote,” he told Politico last year. “The president did not level with us.” In 2007, Biden opposed the troop surge that McCain has credited for bringing down levels of violence in Iraq, and co-sponsored a non-binding resolution stating that it is “not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq.”

Biden also brings with him solid law-and-order credentials from his time on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he was the ranking Democrat for eight years.

And if Obama’s multinational formative years seem unusual to many voters, Biden is almost a caricature of the American story. Now a white-haired, full-throated senator from Washington central casting, he was born “Joey” Biden to a blue-collar family in Scranton, Pa., and has never seemed to lose touch with his Irish Catholic roots.

Biden admirers — and even many who aren’t particular fans — were deeply moved by how he weathered a devastating family tragedy in 1972, shortly after he was first elected to the Senate at the remarkable age of 29.

Biden’s wife of six years, Neilia Hunter, was killed along with their infant daughter in an automobile accident in which the couple’s two sons were seriously injured. Biden was sworn into office at his sons’ bedside and commuted by train daily between Wilmington and Washington to take care of them — a commute he’s continued ever since.

Garrulous, bigger than life and at times wonderfully honest and profane, Biden is one of Washington’s most likable pols and an ever-quotable source for several generations of political journalists.

"The press wants me in this thing," he told donors in Washington last June.

But his long history of verbal gaffes has made him a perplexing figure to a generation of Capitol Hill insiders, as well as to three decades' worth of staffers who have tried, without success, to get him to talk less and worry more about what comes out of his mouth.

Two of his slips have become part of political lore. His 1988 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination was destroyed by a plagiarism scandal (and made former British Labor leader Neil Kinnock a trivia question answer forever more).

Last January, he described Obama — on the very day that the Illinois senator launched his candidacy — as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Biden's embarassing remark about Obama may actually make him a more appealing running mate, however. Obama publicly absolved Biden of any taint of racism at a debate in Iowa last year, and that narrative of racial reconciliation is central to his appeal.

Still, such inexplicable lapses in judgment caused many leading Democrats to question Biden’s selection as Obama’s vice presidential candidate, and those lapses will keep GOP operatives, journalists and Biden’s new squadron of staffers on eggshells day and night in anticipation of a new verbal grenade.

But Biden watchersalso know that there is much to like and admire about the man. Biden is a fighter who is joining a campaign some Democrats believe should scrap a little more. He is a serious adult on the serious, adult issues of the day.

And no one will liken Joey Biden of Scranton, Pa., to Paris Hilton or Britney Spears.

"He knows McCain better than anyone else. He intimidates McCain more than anyone else. He can call McCain out better than anyone else on some of his positions," said Biden’s pollster, Celinda Lake, in a recent interview.

Richard Ben Cramer, in his masterful look at the 1988 race, “What It Takes,” wrote that even from boyhood, Biden was not to be underestimated.

“He was little too, but you didn’t want to fight him — or dare him,” he wrote of Biden. “There was nothing he wouldn’t do. Joe moved away from Scranton, Pa. in ’53, when he was ten years old. But there were still a lot of guys in Scranton today who talk about the feats of Joey Biden. ... Joey would never back down.”

Budoff Brown reported from Springfield; Nichols from Denver. Harry Siegel, Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin also contributed to this story.

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