Barack Obama has chosen Joe Biden, the veteran senator and foreign policy expert, as his vice-presidential running mate in a bid to counter Republican charges that he lacks the experience to be commander-in-chief.
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Mr Biden, 65, has twice run for president during his 30 years in the Senate and become one of the body’s leading authorities on international affairs as chairman of its foreign relations committee. His Catholic, blue-collar roots could also be an asset as Mr Obama seeks to win over the working-class white voters he struggled to attract in the Democratic primaries.
Mr Obama will introduce his running mate at a rally on Saturday afternoon in the Illinois state capital of Springfield, where he launched his presidential campaign last year. The pair will then conduct a whistle stop tour of swing states before arriving at the Democratic convention in Denver next week to officially receive the party’s nomination.
Mr Biden was chosen ahead of other contenders including Evan Bayh, senator for Indiana, and Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia. Hillary Clinton, Mr Obama’s fierce primary rival, did not make the final short list – a snub that threatens to exacerbate tensions between their respective supporters at next week’s convention.
Mrs Clinton on Saturday praised Mr Biden as a “strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant”. “Senator Biden will be a purposeful and dynamic vice president who will help Senator Obama both win the Presidency and govern this great country,” she said.
Mr Obama’s choice was the source of feverish speculation throughout this week but the decision was kept secret until the early hours of Saturday morning, when news organisations started to report that Mr Biden had prevailed. The leak forced the Obama campaign to accelerate its much-hyped plan to announce the decision direct to supporters through millions of text messages and emails.
Mr Bayh and Mr Kaine had been hotly tipped because their home states are both top Obama targets in November. As senator for Delaware, a safely Democratic state, Mr Biden offered a different kind of appeal. He emerged relatively late in the selection process as John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, stepped up attacks on Mr Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.
Foreign policy and national security have been overshadowed by economic concerns for much of the campaign but the crisis in Georgia has thrust international affairs back to the forefront. Mr Biden recently returned from a trip to Tbilisi for talks with Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, highlighting the foreign policy gravitas he could bring to the Democratic ticket.
However, his selection also brings risks.
As an opponent of Mr Obama in the Democratic primaries, Mr Biden questioned whether the 47 year-old first-term senator was ready for the White House. The McCain immediately seized on those statements on Saturday, claiming Mr Biden had ”denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing – that Barack Obama is not ready to be president”.
The choice of a long-time Washington insider as running mate could also undermine Mr Obama’s promise to bring change to the capital. Mr Biden’s reputation as a brash and long-winded orator was another risk because of the potential it creates for damaging gaffes.
During the primaries, he caused uproar by praising Mr Obama as a “bright and clean”, apparently drawing a contrast with other African-American politicians. Mr Obama said he was not offended by the remark.
Mr Biden dropped out of the Democratic race in January after a poor performance in the Iowa caucuses. His first run for president in 1988 ended amid controversy when he was found to have plagiarised a speech by Neil Kinnock, then-leader of the British Labour party.
In addition to chairing the Senate foreign relations committee, he has also headed the body’s powerful judicial committee, which oversees judicial nominations and constitutional issues. He was elected to the Senate at age 29 in 1972. His first wife and 13 month-old daughter were killed in a road accident shortly before he took office and he has twice survived brain aneurysms.