Biden Stumps in Palin's Shadow

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2008

On Wednesday, thousands of people crowded into a Fairfax County park for Sen. John McCain's first rally in the Washington region with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose appearance drew the same sort of media attention that she has enjoyed since joining the GOP ticket just more than two weeks ago.

The same day, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. hosted a town hall meeting in New Hampshire with a crowd of more than 800. Biden hasn't made much of a splash since joining the Democratic ticket, but on this day, he did. In response to a question, he voiced a view many Democrats now hold, that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) "might have been a better pick than me" to be Sen. Barack Obama's running mate.

When the senator from Illinois tapped Biden late last month, most Democrats were exuberant, thinking he would add badly needed experience and foreign policy credentials to the ticket, deliver attacks against McCain and bolster Obama's support among voters who have been skeptical of his candidacy.

But the buzz around Palin has left Biden largely obscured and generating so little attention that some Democrats are questioning whether he was the right pick.

When asked about Biden's impact, Democratic pollster Doug Schoen said: "What impact? The best thing you can say about Biden is he has no discernible impact. It's like it's two against one."

Many Clinton supporters say Palin's presence has only strengthened their argument that Obama should have chosen the senator from New York instead.

"I'm a big Joe Biden fan, but it's clear to me if Obama had picked Hillary, we wouldn't be in this mess," said Allida M. Black, a George Washington University professor who served on Clinton's national finance committee during the primaries. Lamenting that Obama's lead in the polls has vanished since the Palin pick, Black said the senator's campaign "should have seen this coming."

While Palin has become a pop culture phenomenon, Biden has done what most vice presidential candidates do: campaign in front of small audiences, host fundraisers and try to avoid gaffes. And Biden defenders argue that although Palin has so far campaigned alongside McCain -- and might continue to do so for much of the rest of the run -- the Democratic ticket is reaching twice as many audiences and media markets by traveling separately.

And although Biden's comments about Clinton drew national attention, a report in the Nashua Telegraph carried exactly the sort of headline the Obama campaign had envisioned when it picked Biden: "In city, Biden tears into McCain."

"When you come into these states as president or vice president, you make a tremendous impact," said strategist Tad Devine, who was an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Al Gore in 2000 and Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004. "If they keep Palin with McCain, they are hitting half the markets of the Obama campaign. That's a real liability for them."

Obama aides suggested that when Biden was picked, the selection was a "governing decision" as well as a political choice, saying his foreign policy experience would be an asset to the younger Obama if they prevail in November. In the meantime, Biden's prescribed role has been to attack McCain and pitch Obama to working-class voters, seniors, Jewish voters and other demographics that have been slow to embrace the man at the top of the ticket.

"There's no question that Senator Biden has strengths with some voters that haven't been a core base of Barack Obama's voters, and that's a huge advantage," said Anita Dunn, an Obama strategist.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company