SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Delaware Sen. Joe Biden took on the role of Democrat Barack Obama's new presidential running mate on Saturday, attacking Republican candidate John McCain and making clear that whatever doubts he'd previously expressed about Obama's readiness were gone.
In a joint appearance with Obama 12 hours after Obama announced that Biden was his choice for vice president, Biden called Obama an inspiration to millions with "steel in his spine" and "a clear-eyed pragmatist who will get the job done."
He went after McCain, a longtime personal friend, as having given "into the right wing of his party and yielded to the very Swift Boat politics he once so deplored."
He also said McCain would continue President Bush's policies. And he chided that McCain is so wealthy and insulated from average people's concerns that his version of making difficult kitchen-table decisions is that "he'll have to figure out which of his seven kitchen tables to sit at."
The appearance was the culmination of a frenetic week of speculation over who would get the nod from Obama. In the end, it was a long-time Washington figure whose Roman Catholic faith and blue-collar credentials — his net worth of $150,000 as listed in Senate financial disclosure forms is decidedly middle class among the millionaire membership of the U.S. Senate — seemed intended to shore up Obama's electoral weak spots.
Democratic leaders embraced Biden's selection, noting that Biden has served in the Senate for 35 years and has been both chairman of the Judiciary Committee and of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Republican Party line was to call the choice hypocritical, highlighting Biden's campaign contributions from special interest groups whose influence Obama says he wants to reduce and Biden's early assertions, when he was competing with Obama for the nomination, that Obama wasn't ready for the job.
But some of Obama's Republican friends praised Biden, including Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar.
In Springfield, reaction to Biden ranged from enthusiastic to curious.
"This was by far the best choice," said Russ Breckenridge, 31. "He strengthens Barack's foreign policy experience and can attack John McCain like Barack can't because Barack is the kind of individual that believe in being above the fray."
Amy Stephan, 30, thought Obama's chief primary rival Hillary Clinton could have helped him solidify the women's and Hispanic votes. "But I knew that wasn't going to happen, it didn't seem like a good fit," she said.
Judi Gentry, 68, had liked Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's moderate, pro-life, outside Washington image. "I would really have like another fresh face there," she said. But she said she trusts Obama's choice with Biden. "I guess this is what he has to do to combat the constant attacks of 'he's too young, too inexperienced.'"
Obama's introduction of Biden before a crowd estimated at 35,000 outside the Illinois Old State Capitol made clear what Obama felt Biden would bring to the ticket.
He noted that Biden was a Roman Catholic born in Scranton, Pa., who'd been raised working-class. Responding to criticism that Biden was a Washington insider who'd first been elected to the Senate in 1972, Obama said that the 65-year-old senator was "uniquely suited" to share the ticket with him.
"For decades he has brought change to Washington but Washington hasn't changed him," Obama said. "He's an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are firmly rooted in the middle class. He has stared down dictators and spoken out for American cops and firefighters."
Obama said Biden had been tested by tragedy; his first wife and a daughter were killed in a car accident 35 years ago and later Biden survived two brain aneurysms.
Obama, who was raised by a single mother and his grandparents after his father left them and returned to Africa, also emphasized Biden's dedication as a new senator to his two sons after their mother's death.
"He never moved to Washington," Obama said. "Instead, night after night, week after week, year after year, he returned home to Wilmington on a lonely Amtrak train when his Senate business was done. He raised his boys — first as a single dad, then alongside his wonderful wife, Jill." The couple also has a grown daughter.
Obama aides were vague when pressed for details about the timing of his decision, which was announced in the middle of the night.
Spokeswoman Linda Douglass said Obama had formally offered Biden the spot as running mate in a phone call Thursday on the campaign trail in Virginia. But she wouldn't rule out that Biden knew earlier.
Biden's decision to travel to Georgia in the wake of the Russian invasion there triggered speculation that Obama already had offered him the spot on the ticket. But even after his return, Biden told reporters a few days ago, "I'm not the guy."
Obama's campaign, which has focused heavily on new technology to organize grassroots supporters and engage young voters, promised supporters that they would be the first to know if they signed up to receive text messages.
But Biden's selection leaked late Friday night, hours before the text message went out. Then, technical glitches meant some who signed up received their messages late or not at all.
More from McClatchy:
McClatchy Newspapers 2008