Debating the Wisdom of Choosing Biden
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
A day before the start of the Democratic convention, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani criticized the selection of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) as Sen. Barack Obama's running mate, saying Biden underscores Obama's flaws.
"Senator Obama has made a choice more out of weakness than strength," Giuliani said today on ABC's "This Week."
Giuliani, who ran for the Republican nomination, said the presumptive Democratic nominee should have chosen Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Obama's chief rival in the nomination process.
"She had 50 percent of the Democratic vote. Obama has 50 percent of the Democratic vote," the former mayor said. "You almost have to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid her as the vice presidential pick of the party."
Giuliani was the only Republican to appear on the five interview shows.
Top Obama advisers, who declined Saturday to elaborate on how the Illinois senator made his selection, said today that the choice was anchored as much in Biden's biography as in his long experience in foreign affairs.
They emphasized Biden's "working-class" roots, as the son of a Scranton, Pa., car salesman, the fact that he works in Washington but commutes home to Wilmington each day, and the challenges he has faced, including the sudden death of his first wife and daughter.
"Senator Joe Biden's personal story has been tested many, many times," Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, said on "Fox News Sunday." He added that Biden has "unparalleled foreign policy experience."
"I think what attracted Senator Obama was Biden's wisdom," said David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, on ABC.
Axelrod said Biden's wisdom was gained not in Washington but "when you overcome adversity, tragedy in your life as he has. The kind of wisdom you get in the working-class communities of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware."
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, one of Clinton's strongest supporters in the Democratic primaries, said an Obama-Clinton ticket would have been just as strong as Obama-Biden.
"They're equally good tickets. Hillary Clinton obviously has a longer relationship with a broader spectrum of voters, women voters," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "But Joe Biden's going to grow on the American people very fast."
Axelrod said that Obama sat down with Clinton shortly after the end of the primaries to talk about the vice presidential process.
"They had a discussion back in early June about it. And he spent more time with Senator Clinton alone, talking about issues than he has with Joe Biden or anyone else," he said.
He said it wasn't necessary to screen Clinton as a potential vice president as much as others.
Obama "knew her, he knew her very well, and so there wasn't the same need as there was for other candidates," he said.
Gibbs acknowledged that some Clinton supporters remain aggravated by the primaries' result. Polls show that, three months after the last primary, Clinton supporters have still not unified behind Obama.
"There's no question that people had strong feelings about their nominee. We went from beginning to end," he said.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) said the coming week would bring Obama and Clinton supporters together.
"I think that's going to be the role of the convention, to really be a unifying time," Ritter said. "I think it'll have a unifying effect."
Rendell said that Obama needs to do more to explain his specific policies to Americans.
"He's got to talk about economic issues, and he's got to be more clear," Rendell said, asking for more specifics about how the Obama tax plan would affect the working class.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who was on Obama's shortlist for the Democratic ticket, agreed.
"We need, certainly, Senator Obama to let the Americans know what his plan is for, as president of the United States, how he's going to help rebuild, restore the middle class," she said.
Axelrod rejected the view of some liberals that Obama has failed to come up with specific policies that live up to his soaring rhetoric.
"I don't accept that that's what Barack Obama hasn't been doing, and I think that he will give a clear picture again this week of where we have to go," Axelrod said.
Gibbs was asked whether Biden's long experience in Washington -- 10 years more than John McCain's -- undermines Obama's promise to change the capital.
"Joe Biden works in Washington but he doesn't live there," Gibbs responded. "He is somebody who never has forgotten where he's from. ... He's a down-to-earth kind of guy."
Gibbs also faced clips from a Democratic debate where Biden, then running for the presidential nomination, expressed doubts about whether Obama was experienced enough to be president.
Gibbs said those kinds of clips are to be expected.
"You can pull up a lot of quotes from August when these two guys were running against each other," Gibbs said.
Gibbs acknowledged that Biden sometimes has an unhelpful tendency to be loquacious.
"He'd probably plead guilty to that," Gibbs said, adding: "We didn't hire him for his stunning good looks."
Gibbs rejected the notion that Obama advertisements attacking McCain over the fact that he could not recall in an interview how many houses he owns is an example of the "slash-and-burn" politics he once said he would reject.
"It's a legitimate issue. ... [McCain] either forgot how many he has or he just wasn't being truthful with those reporters," Gibbs said. "You're out of touch if you have seven houses and don't even remember."
On Fox, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) said Biden's history as a son of a car salesman would appeal to working-class voters struggling in the current economy. Similarly, he said, Obama came from no wealth.
"These two candidates understand the plight of working Americans," Kaine said.
Kaine, who was also on Obama's shortlist, said on Fox that Biden would still help Obama win votes in his state, since he "comes from a state, Delaware, that borders Virginia." (The states are actually separated by Maryland.)
Kaine added that Biden is popular with military voters and "Virginia is a very military state."
Ritter said on Fox that Obama appeals to independent voters who have migrated to the Mountain West over the past six years.
"The West has changed. ... The independents in the West are really looking for leadership," he said. "The change that Obama speaks of, we've previewed it in the West."
Posted at 12:31 PM ET on Aug 24, 2008
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