WASHINGTON, August 23 – Barack Obama’s running mate, Senator Joseph Biden, 65, brings decades of national security experience to the Democratic White House ticket, an area where the presumptive nominee is seen as lacking.
As charman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, the new vice presidential nominee has met many of the leading actors on the world stage, and is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
The Delaware senator took the chance to flex his national security muscle in a just completed trip to Georgia, at the invitation of President Mikheil Saakashvili to discuss the still simmering showdown with Russia.
A Roman Catholic, with a no nonsense style, and an appeal to traditional grass roots Democrats, he will also appeal to working class voters with whom Obama has had a hard time connecting.
But the fact that Biden has spent more than half his life in the Senate may be used against him by the campaign of Republican nominee John McCain, with thousands of votes to mine for controversy.
His presence on the ticket would also seem to somewhat undercut Obama’s call for a wave of fundamental change to overwhelm political gridlock in Washington.
Biden is also somewhat of an unknown quantity, he has tried hard to tone down his notoriously long winded speaking style — but is a clear candidate for verbal gaffes on the campaign trail.
In a presidential debate however last year, he offered a witty rejoineder when asked if he had the self-discipline to cut down on his trademark long-winded perorations. He simply said: "Yes."
Biden will need no invitation to wade into the fray however against McCain in outspoken defence of Obama, who does not always seem comfortable lobbing verbal missiles in the political crossfire.
Biden has a compelling life story to match that of Obama — his years in the Senate have been tinged by tragedy and he has recovered from two brain aneurysms.
He has commuted to Washington daily by train from his state of Delaware, following the death of his first wife and infant daughter in a car crash just before Christmas 1972.
He has spoken movingly how, as a new senator he wondered whether to resign, but took counsel from colleagues and decided to stay on.
Biden’s short-lived presidential campaign — he pulled out of the race after getting less than one percent of the votes in the the first nominating contest in Iowa — did however enhance his national political appeal.
Ironically, his campaign had been derailed almost before it began last year, after he stumbled into a racial storm about remarks about Obama — who hopes to become America’s first black president.
"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate, and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden told the New York Observer in an interview. "I mean, that’s a storybook man."
Obama said he was not offended, and the matter was dropped.
In mid-2006, Biden was accused of racial insensitivity towards Indian-Americans when he said "you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."
Biden had been forced to end a previous presidential bid, in 1988, over claims he plagiarized foreign politicians including Britain’s former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock.
One ad that Biden ran during his short-lived campaign that year stressed the White House was no place for the inexperienced.
"A president has got to know the territory," it said, in words that could have come from McCain this year.