Political Science Professor, University of Delaware
Saturday, August 23, 2008; 3:30 PM
What characteristics will Sen. Biden bring to the Obama campaign, and how would perform as a vice president? Joseph Pika, a political science professor at the University of Delaware, will be online Saturday, Aug. 23 at 2:30 p.m. ET to answer these other questions about the new vice presidential nominee.
A transcript follows.
Prof. Pika joined faculty at Delaware in 1981. His specialties and areas of research interest include the presidency, political leadership and Delaware politics.
Washington, D.C.: Does selecting a running mate from a safely blue state like Delaware suggest that strategists no longer believe a VP can really bring in a swing state, or just that there were no good swing-state candidates this time around?
Joseph Pika: Experts don't believe that vp candidates can "deliver" states the way they could in the 19th century. The only case that historians and political scientists now believe occurred in the 20th C. was Lyndon Johnson delivering Texas in 1960. They are hard-pressed to see any other examples. So, picking vp candidates from small states as in 2000/2004 (Cheney-Wyoming) and 2008 (Biden-Delaware) now seems possible.
Chicago: How is Biden viewed within the party? Does he wield a lot of power?
Joseph Pika: He's a very influential, senior Senator, particularly on matters coming before the Judiciary committee and the Foreign Relations committee. He's one of the most listened to party experts on foreign policy.
Delaware: How is this likely to affect his Senate seat? Who is likely to run to replace him?
Joseph Pika: Delaware law allows Biden to remain on the ticket as both the candidate for Senate and for VP. This happened with Lyndon Johnson in 1960 in Texas and Joe Lieberman in 2000 in Conn. So, there's no need to worry about a replacement until after the Nov. election. If Obama-Biden win, there will be a number of Dems. interested in the position and the outgoing governor (a Dem--Minner) will probably get the opportunity to name someone.
Los Angeles: How would you rate this pool of vice-presidential candidates overall? They seemed kind of weak to me.
Joseph Pika: One way to look at it might be how many of the "finalists" had sought the presidential nomination themselves. Biden was the only one. Bayh has been considered for the VP slot now 3 consecutive times but did not enter the primaries. So, I can see how you might conclude that the finalist pool was weak. On the other hand, the media largely identified that pool--there were more folks out there but we don't know for sure how far Obama looked.
New York: If Obama were to serve two terms, how old would Biden be in 2016? Since it seems unlikely that he would run, is this good news to Bayh, Mark Warner and other relatively younger Democrats?
Joseph Pika: Bayh is in his early 50s (52, I think). Biden is now 65. So a 2-term presidency would mean 73, nearly McCain's age. Like Cheney, it's hard to see Biden being interested in running in 2016, so the younger generation of national politicians might see that as good.
Arlington, Va.: Would Obama have been better off selecting a governor than adding another senator to the ticket?
Joseph Pika: Good question. What would a governor have added--more experience with the nitty-gritty of overseeing an executive branch. But Biden complements Obama in many ways. Obama really has little experience in D.C. He's in his 4th year in office but 2 of those years have been spent running for president. Biden has 36 years in D.C. and knows the place. He's also VERY knowledgeable about foreign policy issues and knows lots of foreign leaders, another place where Obama is vulnerable. Obama can probably find other executive branch managers to help him but Biden brings something else.
Washington, DC: Wasn't it Joe Biden who put his foot clear down his throat when he commented that Obama was so articulate for a black person? Doesn't this just give a peek at how risky he is as a running mate? He can't think before he talks, for all that he is an experienced statesman.
Joseph Pika: That's not quite the quote. Any yes, Biden can be too quick with a quip, one of the reasons he's such a sought-after guest on Sunday talk shows. His big test will be whether he can remain on message and disciplined. It's a risk the Obama campaign seems willing to take since they obviously know about the earlier "shoot from the lip" problems.
Fairfax, Va.: How has Biden maintained an aura of an ordinary guy after serving in the Senate for more than 35 years?
Joseph Pika: He's very rooted in his home and family. Because Wilmington Delaware is less than 2 hours drive from D.C., he commutes daily by Amtrak. So he's not part of the D.C. social scene. He's not personally wealthy and has not accumulated a lavish life style. Like most Delaware politicians, he wins because people know him personally.
Silver Spring, Md.: I think Obama's choice is a good one on the merits. But I have two issues with it. First, Obama is alienating all of Hillary's supporters who have not embraced him. Second - we live in a country where people vote for president based on who they'd rather get a beer with and not the best qualified candidate. Biden's 1988 presidential campaign was scandal-ridden and he barely got single digit percentages in the initial democratic primaries this time around. I worry about his ability to galvanize anything or get people excited for an Obama-Biden ticket.
Joseph Pika: Biden was a "critical" success this year but didn't win the votes needed to keep going. The media, both liberal and conservative, appreciated what he said. He's a great orator--has the ability to flip a switch and get the audience truly excited--but also works well one-on-one. He remained very respectful to Hillary Clinton throughout the early primaries and chided his fellow candidates for piling onto Hillary when she was leading the race. He sat next to her during this year's State of the Union Address when Obama snubbed her. In short, I think many Hillary supporters will find him OK and I suspect she will give him a rousing endorsement.
D.C.: Do we have any indication of the kind of role Biden will play as vice president? If I recall correctly, Gore had certain pet issues he got to take the lead on, and Cheney, well we can insert any number of jokes about his role in the current administration.
Joseph Pika: There's no indication I have heard of--maybe something will come out. Since Mondale's term as VP, each successive VP has had certain responsibilities carved out through conversations with the president. There probably has been such a conversation with Obama that we won't be privy to for quite awhile. One would guess that he'd like to play an important role in foreign policy and judicial nominations.
Alexandria: Joe Biden has dealt with a lot of trauma in his life, with the death of his wife and baby daughter, severe injuries to his sons, the implosion of his first presidential campaign 20 years ago, and his own near-death experience because of a brain aneurysm. How have those events changed him in your observation?
Joseph Pika: They have made him very family oriented, provided him with more perspective on what a public life means and what's important in life. He talks about these issues in his autobiography released last year.
Arlington: How would you describe the dynamic between Biden and his second-wife, Jill?
Joseph Pika: Very close. Biden requested to be on the platform when she received her EdD at a recent commencement ceremony at the University of Delaware so that he could be the first one to congratulate Dr. Jill Biden. He is genuinely respectful of her achievements and accomplishments.
New York: What was Biden's proposed solution to the Iraq war when he was a presidential candidate? Thanks.
Joseph Pika: He proposed partitioning Iraq into three areas so the conflicts among Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites could be settled by giving them quasi-autonomy over sections of the country. There would also have been shared responsibilities including shared revenues from oil sales. He also consistently argued that the U.S. had sent too few troops into Iraq to accomplish the job they had been given.
Westcliffe, Colo.: Will Biden bring a badly needed sense of humor to the ticket?
Laughing at one's self never hurt, either. Certainly Bush and his NeoCons never figured that out.
Joseph Pika: Biden has both a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at himself, important for someone who is prone to gaffs. So, yes, I think we'll see a lighter tone. But VP candidates are also expected to be the "attack dogs" in a campaign. He'll have to carry some of the sharper criticisms that we've recently been hearing Obama deliver. So while the media have been describing him as a "happy warrior," his job will be to be tough.
Washington, D.C.: Please explain the theory of redemption in politics. In 1988, Biden was called out for his serious plagiarism. At first he used the defense of "deny, deny, deny." Then, when there was no where to run, he admitted it. Why do 20 years of work in the Senate erase this character flaw?
Joseph Pika: People are given the chance to acknowledge mistakes and then move on. Bill Clinton was the champ on this score in both Ark. and in D.C. I'd disagree with the description of "serious plagiarism." All politicians repeat lines they like. Biden used more than usual from Kinnock's speach and in doing so misrepresented his own roots a bit. He's admitted that he didn't have the requisite maturity.
Washington, D.C.: Vice president Cheney has been considered on of the most, if not the most, powerful vice presidents in U.S. history. Do you see Biden continuing along these lines, or falling somewhere else on the spectrum? And what issues do you see him taking a special interest in?
Joseph Pika: Like Cheney who had served as Secy of Defense, Biden's strength is in foreign policy and national security issues. There's so much sensitivity about the VP's role under Cheney that we are likely to see an effort to reduce it somewhat--find a middle ground between Cheney and Gore. But I don't think he will disappear--that's not Biden's style.
Washington, D.C.: Given Biden's age, his penchant for off-the-cuff remarks and his status a long-time inside-the-Beltway player, why would Obama, running s the candidate of change, select Biden as his running mate?
Joseph Pika: Maybe all change all the time is not the best message. Lots of folks think change must be linked to continuity. Moreover a candidate needs to consider what he's going to do once elected--how will he govern. Change works better as an election platform than it does as a governing platform. Biden's knowledge and contacts will be very helpful if Obama wins.
Fairfax: One of the things that plagued (maybe even doomed) the Kerry-Edwards campaign was the lack of personal chemistry between the two candidates. They didn't really like one another, basically. Do we have any sense about the relationship Obama and Biden have developed over the past four years and during the primary campaign?
Joseph Pika: Some media reports are trying to delve into this, finding instances of when they've interacted. Biden is a member of the long-time Senate club (36 years) and Obama is a relative newcomer. So I suspect that they didn't establish great rapport in the Senate, and the campaign trail would be a tough time to have that happen. They will need to spend time together on the campaign (remember the Clinton-Gore bus trip in 1992 with the two couples bonding?) in order to become more comfortable as a working team, but that is an important step for them to complete.
Austin, Tex.: So, the news conference was pushed back an hour because the new guy was at the gym. Does that mean this isn't going to be the start on time presidency?
No points for being punctual.
Joseph Pika: It's also not easy flying from Wilmington Delaware to Springfield Il.--the departure seemed late. I doubt that the gym was really the problem.
New York: Clearly, Obama doesn't worry about Biden's past comments about his inexperience to come back to haunt the campaign. Have they put forth an argument yet to defuse this issue, especially now that McCain has started running ads about it? Thanks for the Saturday chat!
Joseph Pika: Not that we've heard. Certainly the joint appearance seems warm. It's not unusual from the past to have candidates' critical comments recycled. Think of Bush calling Reagan's economic policies "voodoo economics" in 1980. Whatever Biden has said about Obama is far more tame.
Thanks for the opportunity to chat. Signing off.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.