U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama strengthened his hand in several important ways by choosing Senator Joseph Biden as his Democratic vice presidential running mate.
Most of all, Biden will help move the Obama strategy away from the soft messages that are beginning to cost it dearly in the polls and bring a much-needed edge to confront resurgent Republican opponent John McCain.
Biden, 65, a long-serving senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, simultaneously closes two worrisome gaps in the Obama profile. He brings grey hair and foreign policy expertise to balance Obama's youth and lack of international experience.
Biden's aggressive campaign style also toughens up Obama's somewhat vague promises of hope and change.
The new vice presidential candidate arrives at a key juncture, a moment that has seen McCain benefit from U.S. fears over the Russian conflict with Georgia and speculation that other new democracies on the Russian border may be in for a similar show of power. McCain has taken a harder line than Obama on the use of force as a way of defending U.S. interests around the world.
Finally, Biden will help gather votes. A devout Catholic, he appeals to the Catholics bloc on which Obama himself had no particular claim. And most importantly in the vote count, Biden's working class origins will help balance Obama's elitist image and help break down barriers that Obama has encountered in such big industrial states as Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Obama made his announcement in an innovative mobile phone text message addressed to millions of young supporters who had signed up to be informed ahead of a public announcement. Only after this "private" distribution was the media contacted. Recipients of the message were made to feel personally involved in the Obama crusade.
By inviting young voters to sign up for the announcement, Obama has now collected millions of new phone numbers that will be valuable in turning out friendly voters in the November 4 election.
Obama explained his choice of Biden to an enthusiastic crowd in Springfield, Illinois, capital of his home state. He praised Biden as "one of the finest public servants of our time", and "a man with fundamental decency".
"Joe Biden is what so many others pretend to be," Obama said, "a statesman with sound judgment who doesn't have to hide behind bluster to make his point."
Returning to his change message, Obama said Biden "has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn't changed him." Biden "will make a great vice president," Obama said. "With Joe Biden at my side I am confident we can take this country in a new direction."
Biden lost no time in demonstrating his talent as a tough talker, a role that Obama has avoided assuming.
In a sign of things to come, Biden jeered at McCain's recent failure to remember how many houses he owns. Demonstrating sympathy for Americans struggling with the high cost of living, he said, "That's not something that John McCain has to worry about. He has to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at."
Although Biden and McCain have long cooperated in the U.S. Senate, Biden said he has been sorry to see McCain succumb to pressures from the Republican right wing. "They need more than a tough soldier. They need a wise leader."
Biden said he has no doubt that Obama is ready to lead. "No one knows better than I do, after the last 18 months (of primary campaigning), that Barack has met his challenges with judgment and wisdom and steel in his spine. I have watched as he has inspired millions of Americans to this new cause."
Two months is an eternity in politics but thus far Obama has shown consistent wisdom in his key decisions, the latest being the choice of Joe Biden to balance the Democratic ticket.
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