Biden, Obama a Comfortable Fit on the Campaign Trail
Monday, September 1, 2008
TOLEDO, Aug. 31 -- Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. was warming up a crowd at a town hall meeting Sunday morning when a woman shouted, "You are gorgeous!"
"I haven't heard that in a long, long, long time," responded Barack Obama's new running mate. "And hanging around this lean, young-looking guy is making me feel pretty old, you know what I mean?"
The audience cracked up, and so did Obama. When it was his turn to speak, a woman called out for Biden and Obama quipped, "See, she thinks you're gorgeous, too, Joe."
Obama picked Biden as his running mate in part because his colleague from Delaware brings foreign policy heft and a working-class Catholic pedigree to the Democratic ticket. But as the two barnstormed through the Rust Belt on their first campaign swing together over the holiday weekend, it was clear that they also possessed a more elusive political quality: chemistry.
"Marriages of political necessity are often really awkward," said senior Obama aide Linda Douglass. But she said even Obama has been surprised at how quickly he and Biden have clicked on the campaign trail. "There's lots of laughing and collaboration and consultation," she said. "He's just this cheerful presence in the group."
Their rapport stands in contrast to the Democratic ticket in 2004, when Sens. John F. Kerry and John Edwards barely knew each other and grew to dislike one another. Edwards wasn't as tough on President Bush as Kerry wanted him to be, and Kerry campaign aides complained about prima-donna-type demands from Edwards, who, in turn, criticized campaign strategy.
On the Republican side this year, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) met Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin once before last week, when she was offered the job. The two have campaigned together since Friday, and McCain called her "a partner and a soul mate" in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."
Biden and Obama have served together on the Foreign Relations Committee since Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004, and they have always had a friendly relationship, with Biden -- the chairman -- playing mentor.
Although they were rivals for their party's nomination this year, Biden has both privately and publicly praised Obama, and he provided help behind the scenes to smooth relations with the Clintons and to guide Obama on foreign policy, sources close to both senators said.
Senior Biden aide Antony Blinken joined Obama at the start of his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan in July. He later told Biden how impressed he was with Obama's grasp of the region and with his rapport with U.S. troops, aides to both said.
Senior Obama advisers said Biden was always a top choice for the No. 2 slot, but they weren't sure how the veteran committee chairman would adapt to a subordinate role. Campaign manager David Plouffe said Biden reassured Obama staffers in their first meeting, saying: "I work for you guys. I'm just part of the team
So far, Biden's role has been part father figure and part foil. He picks loose threads off Obama's jacket and warms up crowds with wisecracks and aphorisms. On Saturday morning, he and his wife, Jill, had French toast for breakfast with the Obamas. His grandkids hit it off with Obama's daughters and have already had one sleepover. At every event, he and Obama embrace and backslap each other, like a pair of long-lost brothers.