WASHINGTON – Sen. Barack Obama selected Sen. Joe Biden, of Delaware, late Friday night to be his vice presidential running mate, according to a Democratic official, balancing his ticket with an older congressional veteran well-versed in foreign policy and defense issues.
Biden, 65, has twice sought the White House and is a Catholic with blue-collar roots, a generally liberal voting record and a reputation as a long-winded orator.
Across more than 30 years in the Senate, he has served at various times not only as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee but also as head of the Judiciary Committee, with its jurisdiction over anti-crime legislation, Supreme Court nominees and Constitutional issues.
In selecting Biden, Obama passed over several other potential running mates, none more prominent than former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, his tenacious rival in dozens of primaries and caucuses.
The official who spoke did so on condition of anonymity, preferring not to pre-empt a text-message announcement the Obama campaign promised for this morning.
Obama’s campaign arranged a debut for the newly minted ticket today outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.
While Obama decided against adding Clinton to his ticket, he has gone to great lengths to gain the confidence of her primary voters, agreeing to allow her name to be placed in nomination at the convention and permitting a roll call vote that threatens to expose lingering divisions within the party.
Biden slowly emerged as Obama’s choice across a long day and night of political suspense as other contenders gradually fell away.
First, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine let it be known that he had been ruled out. Then came word that Sen. Evan Bayh, of Indiana, had been passed over.
Several aides to Clinton said the Obama campaign never requested financial or other records from her.
Other finalists in the veep sweepstakes were Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Texas Rep. Chet Edwards.
Among those on the short list, Biden brought the most experience in defense and foreign policy – areas in which Obama is rated relatively poorly in the polls compared with Republican Sen. John McCain.
While the war in Iraq has been supplanted as the campaign’s top issues by the economy in recent months, the Russian invasion of Georgia has returned foreign policy to the forefront.
In addition to foreign policy experience, Biden, a native of Scranton, Pa., has working-class roots that could benefit Obama, who lost the blue-collar vote to Clinton during their competition for the presidential nomination.
He spent the day at his home in Delaware with friends and family. The normally loquacious lawmaker maintained a low profile as associates said they believed – but did not know – he would be tapped. They added they had been asked to stand by in case their help was needed.
No sooner had word spread of his selection than McCain’s campaign unleashed its first attack. Spokesman Ben Porritt said in a statement that Biden had “denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing – that Barack Obama is not ready to be president.”
As evidence, Republicans cited an ABC interview from August 2007, in which Biden said he would stand by an earlier statement that Obama was not ready to serve as president.
Biden is seeking a new Senate term in the fall. There was no immediate word whether he intended to change plans as he reaches for national office.
Biden dropped out of the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination after a poor finish in the Iowa caucuses, but not before he talked dismissively of joining someone else’s ticket.
“I am not running for vice president,” he said in a Fox interview. “I would not accept it if anyone offered it to me. The fact of the matter is I’d rather stay as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee than be vice president.”
It was his second try for the White House. The first ended badly in 1988 when he was caught lifting lines from a speech by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.
In the decades since, he become a power in the Senate, presiding over confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court nominees as well as convening hearings to criticize President Bush’s handling of the Iraq War.
Biden voted to authorize the war, but long ago became one of the Senate’s surest critics of the conflict.