Leading article: Barack Obama negotiates his first serious hurdle

The choice of Joe Biden as a running mate is a shrewd one

Related Topics

A few years ago, George Bush characterised the task of the United States President as being "the decider". But actually, one of the main responsibilities of America's commander-in-chief is delegation. The success or failure of an administration often hinges on a president's soundness of judgement in choosing people to make decisions on his behalf.

That is the real significance of Barack Obama's choice of running mate for this autumn's presidential election: it is the first serious test of the Democratic candidate's judgement. By unveiling Joe Biden as his running mate in Springfield, Illinois, on Saturday, Mr Obama would appear to have passed it.

It is a politically shrewd appointment, of course. The presence on the ticket of Mr Biden, a six-term Senator for Delaware, is intended to reassure those voters who fear that Mr Obama's relative youth makes putting him in the Oval Office something of a gamble. From now on, when Mr Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, attacks his rival's lack of experience, the Democratic nominee can point to the bulging CV of his veteran running mate.

From the Democrat perspective, Mr Biden has an appealing personal biography, too. Party strategists will be hoping that Mr Biden's humble roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, will help win over those blue-collar voters in places such as Ohio and Michigan who vastly preferred Hillary Clinton to Mr Obama in the primaries. They also seem to be calculating that Mr Biden's full-blooded political style will complement Mr Obama's somewhat cool and cerebral approach. And Mr Biden's passion and proven political street-fighting abilities might well prove an asset on the campaign trail (providing the Delaware Senator can suppress his unfortunate tendency to shoot from the hip).

We should, however, bear in mind that this is by no means the most radical choice Mr Obama could have made. If he had wanted to make a big splash he might have opted for a woman such as the Kansas Governor, Kathleen Sebelius, or the Hispanic Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. Alternatively, he might have chosen a running mate likely to deliver him support in a key swing state such as Ted Strickland, the Governor of Ohio. Mr Obama's unflashy and essentially pragmatic choice points to a growing maturity and seriousness of intent on his part. It also points to an ability to identify weaknesses in his campaign and do something about them.

A wealth of knowledge

As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr Biden has accumulated a wealth of knowledge of international affairs and acquired a hefty contacts book of world leaders. This month's Russian military incursion into Georgia is a sobering reminder that such expertise will be needed in the White House in the coming years. It may even be needed by Mr Obama between now and November's election. The appointment of Mr Biden covers a potential gap in the Obama armour.

If there is a drawback, it is the fact that this choice of running mate seems to contradictMr Obama's long-standing campaign theme of shaking up America's creaking political machinery. Mr Obama's argument in Springfield that "for decades, [Mr Biden] has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn't changed him" is a neat attempt to square the circle, but not a very convincing one. For all his straight-talking charm, Mr Biden is, at heart, an establishment figure.

There is, though, a danger of reading too much significance into Mr Obama's choice. For all the constitutional significance and potential power of the office of vice-president, the identityof the running mate tends to be a negligible influence on the outcome of modern presidential elections. Two names will be on each ticket in November, but Americans tend to vote with the president in mind, rather than the deputy.

Healing the rift

Of much greater significance will be the Democratic Party convention in Denver this week at which Mr Obama will be officially nominated as the candidate. Will the rift between Mr Obama and the still-powerful Clinton camp be fully healed? More importantly will it be seen to be healed by the outside world?

Then another question looms. Will there be momentum for Mr Obama coming out of Denver? Mr McCain is running neck and neck with his opponent in the polls and Mr Obama's campaign has yet to catch fire nationally in the manner in which his team must have hoped it would by now. This is where the race gets truly interesting.

Mr Obama appears to have successfully negotiated one hurdle with this weekend's appointment. But the biggest challenges for the Democratic candidate all lie ahead.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

CRM Data Analyst – Part time – Permanent – Surrey – Circa £28,000 pro rata

£15000 - £16800 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Mechanical Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A key client in the East Midlands are re...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobWe are looking ...


£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The Job...Due to continued ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: fathers looking after children, World Cup questions and Nostradamus

John Rentoul

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice