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Chip Drago
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Biden Time: The view
from south Alabama

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Maybe more than most politicians, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., evokes strong reactions, both negative and positive, so it should prove no surprise that a variety of area politicos hold mixed opinions about his selection as Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's running mate.

"He is a good solid pick as far as VP candidates go. I don't think people give much credence to a VP pick, however. If they are likely to support the nominee, they will do so regardless of the running mate. If they don't, he won't make much of a difference. In short, I think Biden will
be more of a help to Obama in governing, but add/subtract little to his election chances."
-- John Lockett,
circuit judge, Democrat, Mobile
 
"While I have tremendous respect for Biden, and wanted to see him as Secretary of State in any administration, I feel his choice was very uninspired.

I wanted to see (Chuck) Hagel, (Hillary) Clinton, or (Janet) Nepalitano. One of these would have shown bravery and freshness."
-- Brad Warren,
chairman, Mobile County Democratic Party

"I believe so (a good choice). He (Biden) has the 'common touch' and it's real! It should be a winning ticket."
-- Jere Beasley,
attorney, former Democratic lieutenant governor

"Not the best on several levels.

First, politically, Delaware has three electoral votes. I think he should have named (Gov. Tim) Kaine and tried for Virginia or (U.S. Sen. Evan) Bayh and tried for Indiana.

I don't buy the idea that Biden's being born in Pennsylvania moves Pennsylvania voters. That is just too much of a stretch.

Second, Biden is given to gaffes. It has happened every time he has been momentarily in the spotlight. He lacks discipline and is given to shooting off the cuff. This is dangerous when you are in the limelight, and your slip could come in a news lull full of cable guys needing
something to discuss. Neil Kinnock, Obama as a 'clean' guy, the list goes on.

Third, what passes for refreshing honesty when administered in short doses of Meet the Press becomes bluster and ego-driven when the spotlight remains on too long. This is the way he is viewed in the Senate. Tiresome and windy. Yeah, they like him personally. He is a decent guy. But he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but thinks he is.

Fourth, the best foil to McCain would have been somebody like Nunn. Understated and thoughtful. And truly knowledgeable in way that frankly McCain is not.  He could have scolded McCain and made it stick. Biden
will turn up the decibel level, but will he have the moral authority and gravitas to make it stick?

Finally, on a substantive level, I think he is exactly what Obama does NOT need. This country needs to retrench.  Its foreign commitments exceed its current capacity to sustain. And are counterproductive.

Michael Scheuer's books and Robert Merry's Sands of Empire are very thoughtful expositions on this point.  Sure we need to be strong, but only if that strength is matched by wisdom. Otherwise, strength can actually turn dangerous to the one possessing it. And Biden has a
history of being innately drawn to proactive actions. He has been a consistent advocate of international interventionism (Bosnia, Georgia, etc.). 

So far from finding his experience on the international stage reassuring, it makes me extremely uncomfortable.  My solace is that Obama seems like a pretty savvy evaluator of people. I suspect that he will soon see Biden's superficiality for what it is ... and how dangerous it would be to take his counsel very seriously.

But, my unease with Biden is the same problem I have with McCain. He, too, seems inclined to continue our attempt to police the world.

Where is Edmund Burke when we need him!"
-- TNR,
local politico

"I am not sure picking another Senator is a positive, although his given 'expertise' in foreign relations is at least a public relations plus to a candidate weak in that area. He will be a formidable attack dog as he has demonstrated often on the Judiciary Committee (see Alito, Roberts, Bork and ummm...Sessions, etc) -- thus, allowing the 'Chosen One' to stay above the fray. 

Neither of the Dem candidates has any previous management experience (managing a Senate staff of plus or minus 35 members is not exactly the equivalent of running the the most powerful nation in the free world) which could be used against them. At least McCain commanded military units, so his management skills have some meat on the bone.

That Obama is tied with McCain at this point (check your historical records, but I think that the past five or six presidential elections, the Dem candidate had double digit leads in August -- Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Clinton, Dukakis -- all but Clinton lost) is not good for him. I believe that emotional dislike for Bush, the war and the status quo gave us a fresh face that spoke well. As the public sees and hears more about Obama, the freshness is wearing off and we have another pretty much down-the-line Democrat who is an inch deep and a mile wide.
 
All McCain has to do to win in November is carry the same states that Bush did in '04. According to the latest polls I have seen, in every one of those Bush states, McCain is ahead or trailing within the margin of error with the deficits decreasing as Republicans begin to come home. Of course, he could lose those close states and Obama then wins, but today, I do not think the selection of Biden will help Obama carry any Bush state."
-- Armand Dekeyser,
political consultant, Washington, DC

"I have kind of a mixed reaction. I realize why BO selected him, but he (Biden) has never been my favorite.

My last stint in DC ... I saw him (in public and in private meetings) fairly regularly. I do NOT want to overstate this. He knew (who) I worked for ... but did not know my last name and would not know me now if we shared the last taxi together.

He is a tough S.O.B. and not afraid to make a deal. In some respects he reminds me of Richard Shelby (or vice versa). When I was around him, it was not long (after) he imploded in '88 and shortly after his illnesses -- so, he had a certain edge to him. He was short-tempered, quick to speak and interrupt, and quick to dismiss the ideas of others as foolishness if they did not match his own.

Running the Judiciary Committee and the nominations of (Robert) Bork and (Clarence) Thomas allowed him to really develop into an inside-baseball power player while he waited on the Foreign Relations Committee chair. This experience will help him speak with authority on the Supreme Court nomination issue -- a theme he is going to pound away on -- you watch.

It is certainly no revelation that Biden was brought on (in part) to be the BO attack dog. McCain might be Biden's 'friend,' but he will stay on his case for the next 70 days -- everyday, all day. That is what BO wanted, and Biden will deliver. I have no idea how effective it will be, but it frees up BO to do what he does best.

The Foreign Relations Committee also really helps BO. Biden knows everyone. I am not sold on the notion that staying in the Senate long enough to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee automatically makes you a statesman or qualifies you for anything, but he knows the issues, knows the military brass and has visited everywhere in the world. He gets to say 'when I met with....' or 'when I visited...' this and this happened.

Experience-wise BO does not bring anything like this to the table. Biden immediately helps mitigate McCain's advantage on military/international issues.

The last thing on the plus side that comes to mind are three states: Penn, Ohio and Michigan. All three won by Hillary. Biden has very strong ties to unions, cops and Roman Catholics. These three blocs are damn important in these three states. Combined with BO's extensive GOTV in the African-American community (which is where he is spending money right now, and not on TV), it might be enough if the race stays close.

On the downside, Biden is the very inside-the-beltway player BO has been railing against. I am never sure if this issue resonates with the average voter, but Biden can't escape that fact. A good example is the bankruptcy reform legislation passed three or four years ago. Biden was involved up to his eyeballs for two reasons. One, the largest credit card servicers in the country are based in Delaware and contributed tons to Biden and his PAC. Two, one of his sons was on the payroll of MBNA for a very large 'consulting' fee during the debate of the bill. Sounds a little like a Montgomery deal. Anyway, Biden try to play ends against the middle, but was pushing hard behind the scene for the credit industry -- and they won. It is not a huge deal, but merely an example of his true colors."
-- IBC,
attorney, Mobile

"Of what they had to select from, based on merits only, he was the best of the lineup. However as I usually say, the real story is in the comparison and none of us will know if it was a wise choice until McCain makes his announcement. I think McCain will take KBH (Kay Bailey Hutchinson) and that will create a nearly perfect match up. Out of all major categories, McCain needs help among women and many Hillary voters need a home. This selection will allow the R's to capitalize on the failure by Obama to satisfy the women and give them a place and a reason to cast a protest vote."
-- Jon Gray,
political strategist, Mobile

"Seems to me that Biden, while imperfect, is the best pick that Obama could have made.

Poor McCain does not have as much to choose from, I am afraid. Neither (Mitt) Romney nor (Tim) Pawlenty turn me on."
-- David Bagwell,
Fairhope lawyer

"There is a strange unknown as to why he has never caught on as a contender for the nomination for the presidency -- maybe too many years in the Senate. He certainly is most qualified regarding foreign affairs, and he is respected around the world as such. And he can be a street fighter, and not sound shrill doing it.

He has been my choice for V.P. all along (if not Secretary of State), mainly because of his grasp of the geopolitical issues.

I think he will be a good political asset to Obama, but the V.P. hasn't really made the difference since LBJ helped Kennedy in the South -- winning Texas, I might add. It is said that he has blue collar appeal. I don't know; it never parlayed into a national following. He was born in Pennsylvania and he has ties there. Pennsylvania (and Ohio) are really important. His wife looks good, too."
-- Skip Brutkiewicz,
Democratic attorney, Mobile

"Generally I applaud the choice. At the outset of the primary season I tended to favor either Biden or Christopher Dodd, based on the experience factor.

I'd rather see the order switched, but as things now stand, I'll vote for Obama/Biden."
-- Ray Jenkins,
retired pundit, Baltimore

"Very interesting. I wonder how much of it was not Obama's choice, but party politics? McCain already has used his sound bites to advantage. Biden will provide lots of fun along the trail. My gut feeling is that is that he was the 'last pick standing.' How many electoral votes can Delaware bring?"
-- Frank Millsaps,
GOP insurance executive, Mobile

"I have always liked Joe Biden, but the pick does give a mixed 'change' message. On the whole, however, I think it is a good pick. One thing I particularly like is the willingness of Biden to be the 'stalking horse.' That being said, I wonder if Obama will let him take that role or is he going to be too timid like Kerry was in muzzling Edwards.

This should be fun."
-- Al Pennington,
Democratic attorney, Mobile

"Probably a good pick-- safe! I hope McCain does as well."
-- Steve Windom,
former Republican lieutenant governor

"I am encouraged by the Biden pick. He has no record of winning, and finished last in the Democrat Primaries.  That's hard to do when you have to manage to lose to Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd.

Obama could have taken Hillary and gone for the strongest candidate but so much for that "judgment thing!" Rookie mistake. At least he gets to run four more times.

If McCain would now answer with a solid non-controversial pick, he should win a close election. He should not take the bait on a pro-abortion pick to 'reach to the middle' or try to capture the Hillary crowd which is disappointed or mad at Obama.

McCain goes to slam dunk certain if he pledges one term. He promises to spend all his energy on America's problems, bring us together, use the bully pulpit for the changes we need and not worry a bit about re-election.

The Hillary crowd rushes over to McCain, the 'swing voters' abandon the uncertainty of Obama, since he is only 47... he will have another chance."
-- Jerry Lathan,
GOP roofing executive, Theodore

"Biden's a lightweight, ordinaire, but he realizes his limitations and has the sense to consult those with expertise in whatever subject he is dealing with at any particular time. And he just talks too damn much. When I was at the ..., I had dinner with Joe and the ... and maybe some others -- I don't recall -- and that confirmed my assessment.

And, ladies and gentlemen, he just talks too damn much.

I feel there is some risk in the Biden choice."
-- CMM,
veteran politico

"In my opinion, the Obama campaign has not made any big mistakes so far, therefore I assume it is being run by savvy people. Based on this assumption, Biden is a good choice. But, I have never thought he would appeal to the the masses as a candidate. He will probably be considered capable of serving as president in the absence of Obama. But does he help with blue collars? Hopefully, he will not talk us to death. Maybe the V.P. candidate vetters thought he will be a smaller target for the
Repub attack machine, than others considered."
-- Rick Stout,
circuit judge, Democrat, Mobile

"I think he is a good choice. He certainly can control the Congress which Obama could not, brings strong foreign policy and economic experience. I like him better as president."
-- Gene Eason,
retired FBI agent, Mobile

"I think he made a big mistake in not selecting Hillary and Bill. Otherwise, a good pick."
-- John Brutkiewicz,
Attorney, Mobile

"I favor it. Of course, the challenge is to get the Clinton people on board. I am sure you have seen the USA Today/Gallup poll report that 47% Clinton voters support, 23% lean, and 30% oppose Obama. Even so Obama is
leading McCain by 3%. So one could argue that this may be good news for Obama, that there are one-third or one-half of the Clinton voters when polled are responding as undecided or for McCain. I suspect that some of those voters would not vote for a black man in any event and are conveniently using 'Obama has insulted Clinton' as a cover. However, as (Pennsylvania) Gov. (Ed) Rendell said yesterday that most of the Clinton Democrats will come home in the end. I think a lot of those Clinton voters are more Bill than HIllary, so much depends on the former president. If he can bring himself to really 'get with the program' then I think that Obama's numbers will jump.  Obama is not a dummy and nobody has to draw this picture for him. He was nurtured in Chicago politics, and while he may talk policy nuanced, a political softy he 'ain't.'  And Joe Biden can help.

One thing for sure, though, Bush's days are fleeting. And while I think his foreign policy has become more realistic of late, I can only say 'Thank God.'"
-- Lewis Odom,
retired attorney, Mobile

"Biden would have been about fourth or fifth on my list.
With Obama's need to capture PA and to break off some of the Jewish support for McCain in south FL, I would have picked Ed Rendell, Gov. of PA. He was the past chairman of the Democratic National Committee and certainly has executive experience, having been mayor of Philly and sitting governor. Of course, I don't know about any skeletons in his closet, but you'd think they'd be exposed by now in his political career.

Another choice right up there with Rendell would have been Sam Nunn. I would have even picked Hillary before Biden. You saw how McCain even picked up a couple of points in the first national poll (Gallup) after the pick was
announced. Biden may help with lower and middle class white blue collar voters, but Obama had Delaware anyway. Biden didn't help the former group very much in voting for the draconian Bankruptcy Act of 2005, which pretty much supported the banks and credit card companies (Delaware is home to many of their corporate charters and it would be interesting to see how much $$$
they have contributed to Biden in the past).

Biden brings some international experience, but he's a loose cannon and doesn't know when to shut up. Look for a few "feet-in-the-mouth" comments from him.

Obama has been promising change, but ultimately fell back upon DC insider Biden. He has made this election even closer than it was."
-- PST,
former Democratic bureaucrat

"He was a safe choice.  Doesn't help, doesn't hurt."
-- Steve Flowers,
state political columnist

"I have always liked Joe Biden even though I haven't always agreed with him on some of the issues. My perception of him is that he is a straight shooter. He doesn't seem to back up from what what he believes and has proven that he can sometimes just speak his mind without always worrying about offending someone. In a sense, it will be a breath of fresh air in what has become a boring campaign. I personally am tired of candidates who dance around issues for fear of hurting someone's feelings.

I would prefer Biden at the head of the ticket. If Obama wins, (at this point I would still be surprised if he did) it won't be because of his great depth as a candidate, but rather McCain's inability to overcome the Bush legacy of corporate government that has put a massive strain on the finances of the electorate.

McCain's choice will be interesting as well. If he picks someone who has a history of supporting  the oil, insurance or drug industry to any extent, McCain will be finished."
-- Dale Mims,
Realtor, Mobile

"Joe Biden is an excellent choice for Vice President. He is just the beginning of what will be an administration filled with knowledgeable, experienced individuals who also will bring the desire and inventiveness that this county sorely needs to move this county toward a better and more stable economy, restore our credibility among other countries  and move us to policies that protect our environment yet include exploration of ideas that will lead to a successful energy policy and improve the infrastructure of our cities and create and encourage jobs for all Americans.  One quality of a great leader is to surround himself with experienced and intelligent people like Joe Biden! "
-- Dianne Jones,
local Democrat

"I think it is a good choice on reflection. I did not like Biden before and I think his criticisms of Obama in the primary race are hurtful, but I think that overall it is a very wise decision. I met him (Biden) many years ago and I think that he sometimes says the wrong thing at the wrong time. If he can limit his gaffes, I think he will be of tremendous help to Obama with his experience and the respect he has developed since his previous run at the nomination when he was (accused of) plagiarizing others. I think it will be the winning ticket."
-- Richard Dorman,
Democratic attorney, Mobile

"I think that for the first time since LBJ the choice of VP running mate makes a hell of a difference. It was an impeccably astute decision but, go figure, that's how Obama has responded throughout the campaign. Biden
and Obama are in ying and yang balance. Biden brings a lot of subliminals - age, experience, grace, polish -- but not as counterpoints or in apparent, self-serving, or distracting ways.

The best choice would have been Hillary but there was too much at stake to actually do that. There is just so much risk taking you can do in a campaign. A 'minority ticket' would have been 'doubling down' when the smart move is 'even money.' You push the envelope only when absolutely
necessary.

That same kind of pragmatic realism can be ascribed to the GOP's choice of McCain. Characteristically driven by emotion, ideology and rhetoric, they opted for realpolitik. Imagine what the numbers would be now if it had been Huckabee or Romney. Look for one of those to to sneak back in as the Veep choices and the ticket appears to appear more centrist at a time when the GOP should be in complete ill repute."
-- Dom Soto,
Democratic attorney, Mobile

"It makes good sense to me, to help balance the Democratic ticket. I was one of those who had hoped for an Obama/Hillary ticket, but in the back of my mind, I thought that might be unworkable. A Vice President, these days, is a vital resource for the President and is, of course, 'a heart beat away.' Biden brings valuable insider experience (along with the negatives), that will be invaluable to a young and inexperienced leader."
-- John Paul Jones,
retired educator, Democrat, Mobile

"I like Joe Biden. He has worked well across party lines for the past 36 years. I totally dislike the bipartisan politics that have increased over the past couple of decades, making it difficult to get legislation passed for the people. I believe that Senator Biden honors the Constitution and the citizens of the United States. He has the best exit strategy for Iraq than any of the other candidates in the Democratic Primary. He believes in Universal Health Care and has fought for progress for women and minorities. He has been strong on putting more police officers on the streets, punishing hate crimes, equal pay for equal work, protecting our elderly, and educating our children.

He is strong in his faith, and a model family man.  I believe he is a good choice for Vice-President.

I would have voted for Biden if he had been on the ticket in February.  As with all men and women in the public eye, there will be negatives declared...it's politics for heaven's sake.  But, I believe that he is a good and honorable man."
-- Bitha Dill,
communications chair,
Mobile County Democratic Executive Committee

"Sen. Biden is perhaps the best VP pick the Republicans could have made. I cannot at all profess to know much less understand the Democratic reasoning here, but here are several reasons why I believe this is good for Republicans and my opinion on the perspective of average Americans.

Picking Sen. Biden is tacit acknowledgement of several criticisms of Sen. Obama. First, Sen. Obama has essentially no experience, so he needs someone with decades of experience to bolster him. Second, Sen. Obama has demonstrated a startling lack of understating in international relations, so he needs Biden's supposed foreign policy credentials. Third, many pundits say Sen. Obama is too soft spoken, so he needs a 'scrapper'
on his side. In other words, Sen. Obama is unable to be forceful or make tough choices, so some Democrats are saying Biden is to Obama as Cheney is to Bush.

Then there is the flip side of these issues. How does bringing in a long time Washington insider reckon with Obama's message of change? Sounds more like repackaging that good old 'tax and spend' liberalism. Granted Sen. Biden has decades of experience in international relations, but this guy is a champion of 'Jimmy Carter Foreign Policy -- we can talk anybody into surrendering all of our interests.' Do the Democrats really think another 'cut and run' guy is going to connect with Joe Six-Pack? The Democrats have been decrying VP Cheney's role for eight years; now they will say that their version of Cheney enhances their ticket.

Once again, the Democrats seriously under estimate the electorate. Sen. Obama is already perceived as an arrogant elitist, so adding Senator "My IQ is higher than yours" only magnifies the hubris ticket. Sen. Biden also
resurrects the abortion issue with another Catholic attempting incredible moral and rhetorical acrobatics to reconcile with his church while he joins with an extreme abortion rights advocate.

The 2004 election and others should also remind folks that Senators do not typically win the Presidency. For most people, we disdain the pompous arrogance of the 98 or 99 Senators not from our state. I think Sen. Biden was a timid choice from a state the Democrats will win anyway. In any event, thank God for their reasoning and choice. This is going to be a really fun general election as more and more average Americans start to pay attention. And, therein lies the key -- average folks.
-- Pete Riehm,
Vice Chairman, Mobile GOP

"Fairly safe (pick), designed to appeal to Clinton supporters ... the VP pick much more important to McCain, who right now I have as at least a 2 to 1 underdog in November and odds should increase after the debates."
-- Danny Sheridan,
oddsmaker, Mobile

"Biden is probably a good pick. I am not sure BO could have picked anyone that helps him with women other then HRC. It seems to me that the Biden selection does
signal one thing: BO is essentially writing off the south (excluding Florida and maybe Georgia, maybe). Biden does not help AT ALL in the South -- seen as a Yankee liberal that is  bad on guns -- he does help in the three battleground states I mentioned and helps in Florida.  Biden is very strong with AIPAC and the Jewish vote. His support of Israel is unquestioned--perhaps this fact was weighed heavily more than I first realized ... just a thought.
-- IBC,
attorney, Mobile

"Good choice. Being a Catholic should help versus the righteous Right, maybe. His experience will help if there are any undecideds -- not sure there are!"
-- John Duffy,
retired, Democrat, Mobile

"Biden has been in the Senate well over 30 years and hasn't excited anyone when he ran for President. It could be interpreted as a way to address Obama's inexperience but, in my book, he could have picked someone more exciting."
-- Clay Swanzy,
former congressional chief of staff

"I actually like the pick of Joe Biden. I think he will follow his lifelong pursuit of saying something really, really stupid and then look foolish trying to defend it. There were better picks to ensure McCain's victory (Hillary Clinton), but Biden is just fine.

It was more worrisome if Obama had chosen Chet Edwards of Texas -- big state, huge military supporter, older Americans love him, conservative Democrat.

Until "Babygate," I actually thought that John Edwards would have made the ticket very hard for McCain to defeat."
-- Eddie Menton,
Mobile County Republican Executive Committee

"I have met Joe. He is a magnetic, charismatic personality, contrary to his reputation as being a warrior. I would have preferred Hillary. But out of the options, I think Biden is a good choice. He will take the war to the Repubs. There is plenty of material for both sides to smear each other. Joe is clever and if he will watch is mouth, he will be an asset."
-- John Butler,
retired juvenile judge, Mobile

"I am totally relying on Obama. I have no problems with Biden personally."
-- Fred Richardson,
city councilman, Mobile

"Senator Biden is widely known for his foreign policy expertise, which is definitely a strength. He is also known as a very candid public official, which has sometimes caused him trouble. However, we could use more straight-shooters in public life."
-- Adam Bourne,
city councilman-elect, Chickasaw
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