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Biden, Obama's Pick, Enters National Arena Anew


As Democrats head into their nominating convention in Denver tomorrow, they've already had their first look at the 2008 ticket. Senator Barack Obama appeared yesterday in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, with his long awaited choice, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. NPR's senior national correspondent Linda Wertheimer has more on what brought Joe Biden to this moment.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Joe Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972, an upstart upsetting a longtime senator. Biden went from the New Castle Delaware County Council straight to the U.S. Senate. He was only 29. Biden's biography is irresistible. Barack Obama introduced Biden by telling that story and the next part, the terrible part.

(Soundbite of speech)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Then tragedy struck. Joe's wife, Neilia, and their little girl, Naomi, were killed in a car accident. And their two boys were badly hurt. When Joe was sworn in as a senator, there was no ceremony in the Capitol. Instead, he was standing by his sons in the hospital room where they were recovering.

WERTHEIMER: Biden considered resigning from the Senate before he even got there to care for his children. The compromise was to take the train home to Delaware every night from Washington. His boys recovered. They're grown men now. Biden still takes that train home every night. Biden's career has had its own highs and lows. He ran twice for president. The first time he was out of the race early after lifting some lines from a speech given by a British Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock.

(Soundbite of speech)

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): And what I would do out on the stump, I'd say I saw a tape from Neil Kinnock where he stands there, and he's angry, and he looks out at his people, and he says, why am I the first Kinnock ever to go to a university? It doesn't take much if you feel that, folks. I saw that and it was a connect. I mean, I could tell how that man felt, and that's how I feel.

WERTHEIMER: But Biden did not always credit Kinnock, and that mistake cut short his campaign. Biden remade his career in the Senate serving as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee, and in 2008 he tried again to run for president. He never made it out of the second tier of candidates, but some voters liked his directness. I watched a CNN debate with Democratic activists in New Hampshire in June of 2007. Megan Kaufman(ph), who worked for the state senate campaign, thought Biden broke out of the pack at that debate.

Ms. MEGAN KAUFMAN (Democratic Activist): But he won points. Those of us that are involved in the process recognize that it's Hillary, Obama and somewhat Edwards are the frontrunners and who's going to break out of that fourth tier? And I think that Biden was strong tonight, and made some great strides at doing that.

WERTHEIMER: But several times during the campaign, Biden had to explain himself. He made remarks about Barack Obama that many thought were offensive. Those concerns were raised in a debate that same year in Des Moines. Biden defended himself with some surprise help from Obama.

Senator BIDEN: I get the overwhelming majority, over 95 percent of the vote, of minorities in my state. My credentials are as good as anyone who's ever run for president of the United States on civil rights.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator OBAMA: I just wanted to - I just want to make a comment. I've worked with Joe Biden. I have absolutely no doubt about what is in his heart and the commitment that he has made with respect to racial equality in this country.

WERTHEIMER: When he was introduced by Obama in Springfield, Biden referred to his bumpy ride in politics.

Senator BIDEN: My mom and dad raised me to believe - it's a saying, Barack, you heard me say before, my dad repeated and repeated. He said, champ it's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how quickly you get up. It's how quickly you get up.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, that's your story. That's America's story. It's about if you get up, you can make it.

WERTHEIMER: Biden should bring some blue-collar credibility to the campaign, which polls show Barack Obama could use. And Biden's record suggests that he may add some drama to the campaign as well. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.