The Public Eye: The Return of Joementum

By Bob Burnett
Monday August 25, 2008 - 09:29:00 AM

As Democrats trooped into Denver, they breathed a collective sigh of relief. After a roller-coaster week, the collective wisdom was that Barack Obama's campaign had gotten back on track. And that the selection of Delaware Senator Joe Biden had greatly strengthened the ticket. 

"We're about to blow it again." Early in the week Dems were in a state of panic, following Obama's tepid performance in the "faith forum" and polls showing the Presidential race as a dead heat. Watching the McCain campaign resuscitate itself, Democrats feared another loss in the style of 2000 and 2004, where the Republicans used slime and fear to cow the electorate. 

After Barack Obama's triumphant Berlin speech, his campaign experienced three bad weeks. First, John McCain successfully demeaned Obama by suggesting he was a celebrity rather than a leader. Then, McCain took control of the energy issue, forcing Obama and the Democratic Party to backtrack on offshore drilling. While Obama was on vacation in Hawaii, Russia invaded Georgia, providing McCain an opportunity to wear his "commander-in-chief" costume and bluster, "We're all Georgians." Finally, the two senators participated in a 'faith forum" at Rick Warren's church: while Obama's performance was desultory, McCain's pandered effectively to Christian conservatives. 

Fortunately, Obama rebounded. As he toured North Carolina and Virginia, the Illinois Senator focused on the economy and attacked John McCain's meager proposals: more tax cuts! Then Obama caught a break when McCain was unable to remember how many houses he has: is it 7,8, or 11?Democrats effectively labeled the Arizona Senator as "out of touch." 

"Joementum." As impetus shifted in Obama's direction, the mainstream media focused on his vice-presidential selection. The Obama campaign milked this effectively and the Saturday announcement was a major event. 

Most Democrats feel Joe Biden is a strong choice for the vice-presidential slot. He brings 35 years of Senate experience and chairs the Foreign Relations committee. Nonetheless, because of his unique family situation - he was widowed at the beginning of his first term and began a daily commute to his home in Delaware so he could care for his sons - he doesn't have the feel of a Washington insider. And like Obama, Biden has blue-collar roots. 

During his acceptance speech Biden slid easily into the attack dog role that Dems have been looking for. Whether by design or because of his temperament Obama hasn't been comfortable pummeling John McCain. But Joe obviously is. Describing the Arizona Senator as his long-time friend, Biden hurled a series of sharp criticisms at McCain: effectively tying him to President Bush and portraying him as both out-of-touch and having abandoned his principles by supporting "swift boat" tactics. 

One of the common criticisms of the Obama campaign is that it hasn't taken advantage of his Horatio-Alger story: raised by a single mom and his grandparents; working his way through college and law school; cutting his teeth as a community organizer and civil-rights attorney; and making his mark as a successful writer. Biden's own Horatio-Alger story prepares him to tell Obama's. 

"What about Hillary?" For the two weeks prior to the Dems VP announcement, political pundits focused primarily on the four leading candidates for the vice-presidential slot: Biden, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Nonetheless, the pre-convention buzz was all about Hillary Clinton: why wasn't she selected and was she treated with the proper respect? 

An objective comparison of Biden and Clinton indicates the Delaware Senator has more to offer the Obama campaign. Biden has strong foreign-policy credentials whereas Clinton doesn't. Both could serve as the Democratic attack dog, but Biden will more effective because he's known McCain longer - he can make the argument that the McCain he used to call his friend has gone over to the dark side. Because he was born in Scranton and has maintained strong ties to Pennsylvania, Biden can help win a swing-state. And finally, Biden enhances Obama's blue-collar creds, whereas Clinton doesn't. 

Unfortunately, picking Biden won't help Obama win over die-hard Hillary supporters - an uncomfortable number of whom say they plan to vote for McCain. The pre-convention activities began with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell blasting the media for its "sexist" coverage of Clinton's campaign, implying that she was cheated out of a victory that was rightfully hers. One of the big stories of the Democratic convention will be the success of efforts made to woo Clinton partisans: will Obama win them over or will they leave Denver determined to either sit out the election or cast their ballot for Darth Vader? 

In the meantime, most Dems are pleased with Obama's selection of Biden and see it as an indication that momentum is swinging back to their side.