CHICAGO — Democrat Barack Obama has chosen as his running mate Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, a veteran lawmaker with foreign policy credentials who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency 20 years ago and again this year.
The pair is to make a joint appearance together later today in Springfield, Ill., days before Obama is to accept his party's nomination for president at the Democratic National Convention.
Word leaked out unofficially late Friday and was confirmed by the Obama campaign via a text mail message to supporters received about 2 a.m. CDT. The text message read: "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3pm ET on www.BarackObama.com Spread the word!"
The decision to go with Biden, 65, a Washington insider, over a younger politician with a lesser known national profile, such as Obama's friend Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, reflects how tight the contest is between Obama and Republican John McCain.
Biden's selection appears to represent a strategy on the part of Obama's campaign to reassure white, working-class voters in swing states who continue to express concerns about the biracial, first-term Illinois senator's readiness to lead the country in wartime.
While Biden offers various pluses to the ticket, he also carries some negatives. These include his reputation for talking excessively; accusations of speech plagiarism back in 1987 that doomed that quest for the Democratic nomination; and Biden's critiques only months ago that Obama wasn't ready to be president.
"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden," McCain spokesman Ben Porritt said in a press release issued before the running mate announcement became official.
Biden also drew accusations of racial insensitivity in 2007 when he praised Obama as the first mainstream black presidential candidate to be "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Biden and McCain, meanwhile, are longtime friends.
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is a past Judiciary chairman and a Roman Catholic with working-class roots who hails from Scranton, Pa., a crucial swing state — all of which could help Obama where he has real or perceived weaknesses.
Obama told an audience at a town hall meeting in Raleigh, N.C., earlier this week, that his choice of running mate would be someone who is "independent" and not afraid to disagree with him — but that he would not cede major decision-making to his vice president as President Bush has with Vice President Dick Cheney.
"I won't hand over my energy policy to my vice president," Obama said. "I won't have my vice president engineering my foreign policy for me."
Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972 at age 29. Soon after, his first wife and a daughter were killed in a car accident. He also survived two brain aneurysms in 1988. Like Obama, he is a constitutional law expert. He also has proved himself to be an aggressive campaign debater.
He is married with three children and five grandchildren. Biden's son Beau, who is Delaware attorney general and a judge advocate general, is set to deploy to Iraq later this year. Son Hunter has worked as a Washington lobbyist. Obama often rails in his campaign speeches against the corrupting influence of lobbyists.
(Talev reported from Chicago. Lightman reported from Washington.)