Barack Obama has tapped Joseph R. Biden Jr. as his running mate, bringing to the Democratic ticket a veteran senator with deep expertise in international relations, two high-level Democratic operatives told The Times on Friday.
The news broke after a full day of intense media speculation that included stakeouts at the homes of the top three contenders. The Obama campaign had hoped to keep the selection secret until the Illinois senator could reveal it to his supporters in text messages.
Late in the day, media reports indicated that the other main candidates -- Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine -- had been told they were out of the running, and attention turned to Biden, who remained secluded.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden could help offset Obama’s relative inexperience in foreign policy. Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator, has been ridiculed by his Republican rival, John McCain, as too naive to be president.
Biden, 65, emerged earlier this week as a top choice. The Times reported Wednesday that the Delaware senator had met repeatedly with campaign officials and that the Secret Service was preparing to protect him.
On Friday, one of the Democrats working with the campaign said the Secret Service had been dispatched and a plane readied to take Biden to Springfield, Ill., where Obama plans to roll out his vice presidential pick today at a rally at the Old State Capitol.
Obama campaign officials declined to confirm Friday night that Biden was Obama’s selection as his running mate.
A Roman Catholic born to a working-class family in Scranton, Pa., Biden might also help Obama draw blue-collar Catholic voters who formed a core constituency for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in her primary battle with Obama.
Biden has already demonstrated an appetite for defending Obama and taking on McCain, particularly on foreign policy issues. In May, he criticized President Bush for attacking those like Obama who favor reaching out diplomatically to regimes like Iran and North Korea.
The senator also offers a compelling personal story. His first wife, Neilia Hunter, died in a car accident in 1972 as she was driving their three children shortly after his election as U.S. senator. Their infant daughter was also killed but their two sons -- Beau and Hunter -- survived their injuries.
Biden, then 30, was sworn in as a first-term senator at his sons’ bedside.
Biden has long harbored aspirations to be president himself. He ran this year, but dropped out of the Democratic presidential race in January after a lackluster showing in the Iowa caucuses. “I’m not a superstar,” he said while stumping in Iowa. “People say they like me, people tell me they think I’d be a good president but that they just don’t think I can win.”
Along with his Senate Foreign Relations post, which recently took him on a trip to Georgia after the Russian invasion, Biden has been chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has had a hand in legislation on crime, terrorism and drug policy.
At the same time, as a 36-year Senate veteran, Biden is a Washington insider, an image that is at odds with the theme of change Obama has promoted. Still, he is popular with many Democratic Party activists and may help Obama with less affluent voters who have been cool to him.
One issue that could prove problematic is that Biden supported the 2002 resolution in favor of military action in Iraq. Obama has made his opposition to the war a centerpiece of his campaign. But Biden has become a persistent critic of the handling of the war.
One of the main roles of the Democratic vice presidential nominee will be to attack McCain and his running mate. The Arizona senator is expected to name his No. 2 after the Democrats end their national convention in Denver on Thursday.
The McCain campaign responded quickly to media reports that Obama had picked Biden. “There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama’s lack of experience than Joe Biden. Biden has 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,” said McCain spokesman Ben Porritt.
In an August 2007 interview with Charlie Rose, Biden said that he believed Obama was “fully capable of being ready” to be president, but added: “He hasn’t demonstrated it yet. This is early in the campaign.” In other interviews, Biden demurred from criticizing Obama directly and emphasized his own extensive experience on the world stage.
In the Democratic debates, Biden also uttered some of the most stinging lines about the Republicans, calling Rudolph W. Giuliani “probably the most under-qualified person since George Bush to seek the presidency” and saying that the former New York mayor only used three words in a sentence -- “a noun and a verb and 9/11.”
While Biden is a skilled orator, he is often mocked for being verbose. His words have also come back to haunt him.
He created a stir early in the past year’s Democratic presidential race when he told a reporter for the New York Observer that Obama was “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” He apologized, saying, “I deeply regret any offense my remark . . . might have caused anyone.”
Last year, referring to Indian immigrants, Biden said, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. It’s a point. I’m not joking!”
And when he ran for president in 1988, Biden was accused of plagiarism when he did not credit Neil Kinnock, then leader of the British Labor Party, for much of his stump speech.
Before heading to the convention, Obama and Biden are expected to make appearances in a series of critical states, arriving in Denver on Wednesday. Obama’s vice presidential choice is slated to speak that night and Obama will address his supporters on Thursday in a football stadium that can seat 76,000 people.
In recent days, Obama was said to be focusing on Biden, Bayh and Kaine, though other names continued to surface.
In looking for a vice presidential candidate, Obama sought to remedy several vulnerabilities as a candidate. As a first-term U.S. senator, his legislative record is thin, and he has little experience in foreign policy or military affairs.
Politically, Obama has yet to demonstrate deep strength among white working-class voters, a weakness that was exposed during his long battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. He also has aimed to win over women voters and others who supported his primary rival, Sen. Clinton.
The selection of Biden caps a screening process managed in secrecy by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the former president, and Eric Holder, a former U.S. deputy attorney general, since June, when Obama clinched the delegates he needed for the nomination.
Times staff writers Doyle McManus and Dan Morain contributed to this report. Silverstein reported from Chicago, Neuman from Washington.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Name: Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.
Age: 65; born Nov. 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pa.
Experience: U.S. senator since 1973. Sought presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008.
Education: Bachelor’s in history and political science, University of Delaware, 1965; law degree, Syracuse University, 1968.
Family: Married Neilia Hunter in 1966 and had three children, Beau, Hunter and Naomi. His wife and daughter Naomi died in a car crash in 1972. Married Jill Jacobs in 1977; they have one daughter, Ashley. Beau Biden is now Delaware’s attorney general.
Source: Associated Press