How Joe Biden Works

Biden for Vice President
Sen. Joe Biden introduces his running mate at a rally in Dublin, Ohio, in August 2008.
Sen. Joe Biden introduces his running mate at a rally in Dublin, Ohio, in August 2008.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

At 3:00 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2008, the Obama campaign sent out text messages and e-mails to supporters. "Friend -- I have some important news that I want to make official," the e-mail read. "I've chosen Joe Biden to be my running mate" [source: New York Times]. At the Democratic Convention five days later, Biden accepted: "Yes. Yes, I accept your nomination to run and serve Barack Obama, the next president of the United States" [source: Reuters].

While many Democrats lamented that Obama passed over Sen. Hillary Clinton for his running mate pick, others deemed Biden a better pick strategically. One of the traditional roles of vice presidential candidates during campaigns is to serve as the de facto attack dog for the campaign. It's the VP pick who goes after the other camp, leaving the presidential candidate free to campaign on issues, rather than criticize or fend off attacks from the opposing camps.

This role can be a prickly one for a VP candidate who hopes to make a run for the presidency in a future election; words spoken in one campaign can sink a later one. Not so with Biden, most political observers agree. "He has exorcised the presidential bug," wrote one pundit [source: Washington Post]. Thus freed from this ambition, Biden could speak without fear of reprisal down the road.

Biden's reputation for oration was examined again after he was chosen as Obama's running mate. He is alternately (and often in conjunction) described as "outspoken and candid," "a strong debater," "long-winded" and "prone to the occasional gaffe" [source: CBS, NPR, Reuters, BBC]. As Obama's running mate, Biden both answered for statements he made before the nomination and created more controversy after.

Perhaps most damaging to the Obama campaign were Biden's remarks about his future running mate during the primary. The day he announced that he would run for the presidency in February 2007, Sen. Biden was quoted describing Obama as "the first mainstream African-American [candidate] who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" [source: CNN]. Biden also said early in the primary race that he didn't believe Obama was ready to serve as president [source: ABC News]. He created further controversy as the vice-presidential nominee when he said he thought that Sen. Clinton would have made a better running mate [source: Washington Post]. When pressed at a later public appearance he reiterated this belief. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh's Web site called liberal Biden the "gift that keeps on giving" [source: Limbaugh].

Biden is much-touted for his appeal to Catholic and blue-collar voters. During the campaign, Sen. Obama lost that voting block to Sen. Clinton. Sen. Biden may be able to bring those voters with him to the election in November. Other voting blocks may be tougher to win over with him on the ticket; some his gaffes sound at best culturally insensitive and at worst racist. In 2006, Biden mentioned that it's impossible to enter a Delaware 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts without a Middle Eastern accent [source: Biography]. And he defended accusations of being out of touch with minority issues by pointing out that Delaware had been a slave state [source: Hartford Courant].

Despite these blunders, and calls from some Democrats for Obama to replace Biden with Sen. Clinton, it looks like Obama has found his running mate. Whether Biden's experience and foreign policy expertise can overcome his propensity for putting his foot in his mouth on the campaign trail remains to be seen.

More to Explore