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Joe Biden Takes Center Stage as Obama’s Running Mate

August 27, 2008 at 6:15 PM EST
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Sen. Joe Biden stepped to the spotlight Wednesday delivering his address to the Democratic convention as the newly named running mate. Ruth Ann Minner, the governor of his home state, Delaware, and David Wilhelm, a former party chairman, assess Biden's role.
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GWEN IFILL: Senator Joe Biden has wanted to be president for at least 20 years. What drives the man who will now be the Democratic vice presidential nominee?

For that, we turn to people who have worked with him and known him: Ruth Ann Minner, the governor of his home state of Delaware; and David Wilhelm, a former party chairman who ran Biden’s Iowa effort in 1988 and Bill Clinton’s national campaign in 1992.

Governor Minner, you’ve known Joe Biden for many, many years. Is this a good fit, vice president?

GOV. RUTH ANN MINNER (D), Delaware: Absolutely. Joe has many of the same ideals, feels very strongly about family issues, and health care, and the same things that Obama feels about, and that’s a good fit.

He also brings the experience of all that he’s done with foreign relations, the opportunity to make friends with all of those countries that have been sort of slighted, you know, treated a little badly. And it’s time that we got them all back in our corner when we fight world issues.

GWEN IFILL: You’re a governor of one of the nation’s — if not the smallest state in the nation. What is it about Delaware…

GOV. RUTH ANN MINNER: We’re 49th largest.

GWEN IFILL: … 49th largest, there’s one smaller.

GOV. RUTH ANN MINNER: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: And yet he’s going for the second most powerful job in the country. How does that — is there a leap that he’s making, too big a leap?

GOV. RUTH ANN MINNER: Well, this is a leap for our state, even. He is running for the highest office, because we are small, but Delaware is the first state. The rest of you wouldn’t be here without us.

It’s only fair that Joe Biden, our Joe Biden, get that opportunity to run for vice president.

GWEN IFILL: David Wilhelm, you have worked with — you have been an aide to Joe Biden over the years, stayed friends with him. How big a fit is this? He’s been in Washington for 25 years, yet we’re hearing him — they’re telling us he’s the son of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a son of the smallest — of the small state.

DAVID WILHELM, Former Chair, Democratic National Committee: Right.

GWEN IFILL: But how do you make that leap?

DAVID WILHELM: Oh, how do you make the leap to the vice presidency from Delaware?

GWEN IFILL: Well, the Washington insider versus the hometown guy?

DAVID WILHELM: Well, it always drives me a little bit crazy when you hear Joe Biden described as a Washington insider and people just pointing to his national security experience, because I think that misses the essence of the man.

I mean, this is a guy who never really has become part of the Washington milieu. This is a guy who took the train back to Wilmington every night as a single father to be with his kids.

This is a guy who has the authentic voice of the aspirations, and hopes, and fears, and challenges that middle-class families face.

One of the things that I am grateful for during the course of the past couple of weeks is that story about who Joe Biden is. What makes him tick, I think, has been more broadly painted on the national scene.

GWEN IFILL: But does he represent change in the way that Barack Obama has been campaigning for?

DAVID WILHELM: Oh, I think he absolutely represents change. This is a guy who wants to change business as usual, has always been about that, desperately wants to change the image of this country around the world, wants to fight for those who have not gotten the benefits of — due to gridlock in Washington, D.C.

This is somebody who, in my view, is the perfect pairing with Barack Obama.

Not afraid of a fight

David Wilhelm
Former Democratic Party Chairman
Joe Biden is not afraid -- I hate the term "attack dog" -- but he is not afraid to draw sharp distinctions... on the national security differences and economic differences between Barack Obama and John McCain.

GWEN IFILL: Governor Minner, what would you like to hear Senator Biden say tonight?

GOV. RUTH ANN MINNER: Well, I think he's a family man, and he cares for every family in this country. He wants to stop seeing jobs exported to foreign countries. He wants those jobs right here for our children when they graduate from school, go on to college, and are ready to enter the workforce.

He wants health care for all of our children. There are so many young children who do not have health care. There are so many adults, senior citizens, and they can't afford health care.

And so the things that matter to us most our families, making sure we have a roof over our head, instead of mortgage failure facing us. Those are the kind of things that Joe Biden cares deeply about.

GWEN IFILL: But people say he also has to be Barack Obama's attack dog?

GOV. RUTH ANN MINNER: Well, if it comes to fighting for women and children, women's rights, whether it's -- some of the things he's done, the abuse of children or of women, many of the things he's done with putting cops on the street to keep us safe, he'll be attack dog, if he must, to make sure that the right things get done at the right time to help the people of this country.

GWEN IFILL: David Wilhelm, was the 2008 presidential campaign -- which didn't go so well for Joe Biden -- was that supposed to be his last?

DAVID WILHELM: Oh, I think that he had reached the conclusion, in terms of his own career, that that was his last. And he was at great peace with that.

I think he's been at great peace throughout this vice presidential selection process. He knows he has a great family. He knows he has a great job in the United States Senate. He loves the state of Delaware and the people that he represents.

When I spoke with him about the vice presidential nomination, he was like, "You know what? If I get it, great. And if I don't get it, that's great, too."

GWEN IFILL: Did you believe that?

DAVID WILHELM: Yes, I did. I absolutely believe it. I mean, this is a guy who certainly believes not only he could be vice president, but that he would make a great president. Let there be no mistake about that.

But I think that he had reached an inner peace about that, and I think it's one of the reasons why he became such an interesting and intriguing vice presidential candidate.

GWEN IFILL: So what is the best use that the campaign can make of him in the next only few weeks left after the Republicans are done? I think we've got 60 days left in this campaign.

DAVID WILHELM: Well, I don't know. I live in Ohio now. I don't know how many calls I've gotten from the Ohio campaign where the leaders of that effort are saying, "Bring him in. Let's go. Let's -- we need him."

So I think he's going to be absolutely of great help in some of the showdown states in the country.

But beyond that, Joe Biden is not afraid -- I hate the term "attack dog" -- but he is not afraid to draw sharp distinctions, the essence of political communications, drawing sharp contrasts on the national security differences and economic differences between Barack Obama and John McCain.

So let's get it on, and Joe Biden is going to be a big part of that.

GWEN IFILL: David Wilhelm and Governor Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, thank you both very much.

GOV. RUTH ANN MINNER: Thank you.

DAVID WILHELM: Thank you.

"An intriguing choice"

David Brooks
The New York Times
The thing that's I think quite good about Joe Biden, he has no internal editing function. And if something is in his brain, it will come out of his mouth. And I think that's kept him normal through all these years in Washington.

JIM LEHRER: And back to Mark Shields and David Brooks.

Will Joe Biden be the attack dog for Barack Obama? We've talked about that before. How do you feel about it now?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: I don't think he'll be the attack dog, because he actually likes John McCain. He's worked with John McCain. They've taken a lot of trips.

He'll be negative. He'll be negative on an issue sense, and he's quite aggressive about that.

The thing that's I think quite good about Joe Biden, he has no internal editing function. And if something is in his brain, it will come out of his mouth. And I think that's kept him normal through all these years in Washington.

I think it will make him a good vice president, because he'll talk to Barack Obama in a way that somebody needs to talk to him, very honestly. And he'll do that with McCain. He'll be aggressive and tough.

But I can't imagine it will be personal, because they -- their offices are close to each other in the Capitol. They've been working together for decades, and they genuinely do like each other.

JIM LEHRER: They had a serious, serious disagreement about Iraq from day one.

DAVID BROOKS: Not so much -- well, Biden supported the war, of course, but they were both, I would say, mutually unhappy very early on with Donald Rumsfeld. I would say they were both fuming in their own different way about Donald Rumsfeld.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. What's your reading on Biden and what he brings to this now?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: What Joe Biden brings to this, Jim, is -- the electorate is divided this way. "I like Barack Obama," say some voters, going to vote for him. "I like John McCain."

He will be -- his target group will be the conflicted voters who like Barack Obama and also like John McCain. He's going to make the case, really, why they should be for Barack Obama and not for John McCain.

It will not be personal, David's right. It will be on the issues, and he'll make it.

Joe Biden has already affected the Republican race. The vice presidential stock of Mitt Romney has taken a hit because a Republican ticket of two multimillionaires would reinforce the perception of the Republicans.

Joe Biden is a man who came to Washington and did not make himself a wealthy man. He's a man of very middle-class, modest means.

JIM LEHRER: His financial statement was just released a week or so ago...

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: ... and he has his house and that's about it.

MARK SHIELDS: That's it.

JIM LEHRER: I mean, a few stocks...

MARK SHIELDS: No, he's got his family, and he's got -- and that's it. So, I mean, unlike, as Michener described, the Congregationalists in Hawaii who came to do good and did very, very well, and so many liberals, conservatives have done that in Washington, it seems, and I think made voters skeptical and cynical over the years. That's not the case with Joe Biden.

I think, also, he's affected their dynamic as far as Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota. Do they want to put Tim Pawlenty in the one vice presidential debate against someone who's such a gifted debater as Joe Biden is?

So he's an intriguing choice. He really is.

Biden perfect for working issues

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
Joe Biden still comes back to Scranton, Pennsylvania. And he's proud of his Scranton roots. And that story is emblematic of, quite frankly, who he is.

JIM LEHRER: What about Joe Biden in the Cheney mode? Is that going to be -- in other words, a lot of people might say, "Oh, well, Joe Biden is actually going to be in charge of foreign affairs because Barack Obama doesn't have the experience Joe Biden does. Oh, my goodness, we're going to have another Cheney situation." What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he'll think he's in charge.

JIM LEHRER: You mean Biden will think he's in charge?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, Biden, you know, he's not a shy person by any means, but I don't think he'll be in charge. I personally don't think Dick Cheney was ever in charge.

He certainly has much more experience. He was just in Georgia. He certainly has that sort of experience that Barack Obama doesn't have. He knows all the leaders. He's gone to everywhere in the world. And so I think that will be a net plus.

I think the other thing about Biden is he knew his presidential hopes were over. He worked really hard to get this vice presidential job.

JIM LEHRER: He really wanted to be president.

DAVID BROOKS: He campaigned hard for this, for this vice presidential job. And he will be loyal.

JIM LEHRER: He campaigned for the vice presidential...

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, in the way one does, in a quiet way. But he will be very loyal to Barack Obama. I think he understands loyalty.

One of my favorite stories about him is his father was very wealthy as a young man, played yachts, polo, lost it all, bankrupt, got a job as a car salesman. The owner of the car dealership had a Christmas party, threw silver dollars on the dance floor for the salesmen to grapple over as sort of a Christmas gift.

Biden's father saw those guys grappling, what the owner had done, and he quit that job on the spot, because you just don't demean people like that. And I think that's the way Biden was raised.

And I think that's one of the reasons a lot of us who cover politics like him. Whether we agree with him or not, we think he's a solid guy.

MARK SHIELDS: Real guy. I talked to both Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania the last couple of days since he's been chosen, and they both said the same thing.

He is the third senator from Pennsylvania, not just because of the proximity or the shared media market. Joe Biden still comes back to Scranton, Pennsylvania. And he's proud of his Scranton roots. And that story is emblematic of, quite frankly, who he is.

And what you see is what you get with Joe. I would not underestimate the influence of the Soviet invasion, the Russian invasion of Georgia...

JIM LEHRER: Georgia.

MARK SHIELDS: ... in helping Joe Biden's case.

JIM LEHRER: All right.