By JIM VANDEHEI & MIKE ALLEN | 8/23/08 4:26 PM EST
It is easy to overstate the meaning of vice presidential picks. After all, rarely does the selection of a running mate significantly tilt the outcome of an election. But it does provide a unique window into the presidential nominee’s decision-making instincts and his strategy for winning in the fall.
Here are five things the selection of Joe Biden tells us about Barack Obama:
1. He’s fixing for a fight. Obama has been knocked for being too soft and too enthralled with rhetorical fancy. But the past few weeks provided a glimpse of his tough-guy Chicago side. He went negative the moment his campaign felt wobbly. Biden is a brawler — and the Obama camp is eager to unleash him.
2. He’s a lot more conventional than advertised. Obama has promised a different and more consensus-oriented brand of politics but more often than not has done what most politicians do: switched positions to soothe voters, dodged the unpredictability of town hall meetings, and gone for the jugular when he sees it. The Biden pick — the most important choice Obama has made to date in his public career — was safe and traditional. Two male career politicians from the Senate is hardly transformational.
3. He’s insecure about security. The Georgia-Russia crisis amplified Obama’s shortcomings on national security — both his own experience and the perceptions of voters about his own readiness for command. McCain is making that his calling card and polls show it’s working. Biden offers Obama instant help: He knows this stuff and is more than willing to flaunt it.
4. He’s more worried about Lunchbox Joe than Bubba. Obama was not persuaded by arguments that Democrats for the past 60 years only win the presidency when they have a Southerner on the ticket. He seems confident he can put a few states in the Old Confederacy in play by stoking African-American turnout. Perhaps. But he also is calculating that his more urgent concern is working-class whites, especially those in the industrial Midwest. Hillary Rodham Clinton clobbered him in these areas — and white men remain very skeptical of him if you believe the polls (and his people do). At the public unveiling of the ticket Saturday at Springfield, Ill., Obama called Biden a “scrappy kid from Scranton.”
5. He doesn’t hold a grudge — or at least does not let it get in the way. Biden, who pulled out of the Democratic race after finishing fifth in Iowa, raised serious questions about Obama’s readiness to handle national security in the primaries. Biden said things like this a year ago: “If the Democrats think we’re going to be able to nominate someone who can win without that person being able to [bring to the] table unimpeachable credentials on national security and foreign policy, I think we’re making a tragic mistake.” That criticism hurt then because it echoed the precise case made by Clinton in the nomination contest. It’s hurting now because Republicans are using Biden’s word against Obama in a new ad. Now Obama has to show he can get over the Clinton grudge.