Biden brings substance to Obama campaign

Sen. Barack Obama’s selection of Sen. Joseph Biden as his running mate has done nothing to improve his poll numbers, but Democrats say they believe the Delaware lawmaker who spoke to the convention last night will help shore up support among critical blocs of middle-class and blue-collar voters.

A Gallup poll a day before Biden’s speech showed that he has his work cut out for him if he’s to fulfill the Democrats’ hopes. The survey of voters in the three days following the Biden announcement put Sen. John McCain ahead of Obama 46 percent to 44 percent. A Rasmussen poll Wednesday gave McCain a one-point advantage.

The numbers are not surprising to political analysts who think the six-term senator and two-time presidential candidate was an unlikely choice to fire up voters who have been lukewarm about Obama.

“Biden doesn’t make a strong impression, particularly,” University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said.

But what he lacks in attention-grabbing style, Biden, 65, makes up for with substance, which critics charges has been missing from Obama’s soaring rhetoric.

“They need to translate their lofty dreams into terms everyone can understand,” said Rep. John Spratt, of South Carolina, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee. “Biden becomes the detail guy who talks about job creation.”

Biden can also speak substantively on foreign affairs. He is perhaps the leading congressional authority on the subject, serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Leaders around the world respect him so much that when Russian forces invaded the Republic of Georgia earlier this month, Georgia’s president summoned Biden to the region to help.

Biden also brings four decades of experience on Capitol Hill. That both helps and hurts Obama, who needs to fill gaps in his much shorter résumé while still running as a candidate for change.

Convention delegates said they were happy with the choice of Biden, even though it was clear that he wasn’t generating a surge of excitement even among the most active members of the party. Many delegates who had hoped Obama would pick Sen. Hillary Clinton are now finding a silver lining in Biden.

“I like Joe Biden, and I think he and Hillary Clinton have a lot in common,” said Lubbock, Texas, delegate Majorie Reynolds, 73, a Clinton supporter who said she is resigned to the fact that her candidate will not be appearing on the ticket.

“I wanted Clinton,” Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma said. “Sen. Biden brings balance and 38 years of experience. And he’s full of life. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, and I think we’re going to like that.”

One of Biden’s similarities with Clinton is an ability to attract blue-collar support. Clinton trounced Obama in the primaries among this group of voters and the Obama campaign has been focused on finding ways to prevent them from migrating to McCain.

“Biden’s roots in Pennsylvania [he grew up in Scranton], his roots in Appalachia, will allow an aggressive campaign in small-town America that Obama struggled in during the primaries,” said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, who is national co-chairman of Obama’s campaign.

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