Obama's Decision to Make Joe Biden His Running Mate

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This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys", August 23, 2008, that has been edited for clarity.

FRED BARNES, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Coming up on THE BELTWAY BOYS, the Democratic ticket is complete as Barack Obama and Joe Biden make their first public debut today. We'll tell you what was behind Obama's decision to name Biden and whether it was a good one.

We'll have a preview of this week's Democratic convention including Hillary Clinton's turn in the spotlight. And John McCain gets ready to make his choice for V.P. in the coming days.

All that's coming up on THE BELTWAY BOYS from Denver right now.


BARNES: And I'm Fred Barnes and we're THE BELTWAY BOYS. And Mort, tonight's hot story, it's Biden.


BARNES: Joe Biden. You've heard of writers block, Barack Obama all week seemed to have announcement block. He couldn't get out the announcement that Joe Biden would be his running mate but he finally did today in Springfield, Illinois where Obama and Biden appeared, watch.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our country's extraordinary courage and I know he wants to do right by America. But the harsh truth is, ladies and gentlemen, you can't change America when you boast. And these are John's words. Quote, "the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush."


KONDRACKE: Well, you know, I think all told, this was an excellent choice. I think you could argue that Evan Bayh would have been a better choice because he's a former Hillary Clinton supporter. He's been a governor of Indiana, which is a red state in play. But, nonetheless, Biden is a wonderful human being. He is — I can't think of a person better liked in Washington than he is. He's going to serve as we saw as Obama's attack dog. But he's a smiling attack dog, not a snarling attack dog.

And he's a foreign policy exert. When John McCain goes around saying you know, I've met this leader and I've met that leader, well, Biden's met all those leaders too. Further more, he's Catholic, he's got a working class background. Delaware is in the Philadelphia media market. Pennsylvania's a crucial state. He's originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania. So he could presumably help carry Pennsylvania. So all told I'd say net, big plus.

BARNES: Mort, let me tell you why on balance you're wrong.


BARNES: And it's not because Joe Biden isn't liked. I agree, I like Biden. Everybody likes Biden. Jesse Helms like Biden. Everybody does. He's a very cheerful, wonderful guy. But the problem for Obama is by picking Biden, it plays into one of the few strengths that John McCain has this year. Everything's working against the Republicans except for one thing, and that one main thing, and that is we are a center right nation. That hasn't changed. There's a Democratic trend, but we're more conservative than we are liberal. So what have we got here in this ticket? A liberal and a liberal. A very, very liberal ticket. I think in the long run of this campaign, which is what, a couple months now, that's going to hurt them. Because when you have these all liberal tickets, as we certainly had one in 2004 by the Democrats, you wind up — they wind up losing. Remember, half the Hillary voters during the primaries have not jumped behind Obama. I don't think Joe Biden's gonna get 'em.

KONDRACKE: Joe Biden culturally is not a liberal. He was a tough guy on crime. Now on abortion and stuff like that, every Democrat is a liberal.

BARNES: Mort, let me turn to this. And that's our own non-partisan, non-ideological test for veep picks. It's called THE BELTWAY BOYS veep test. Number one, is the choice a plausible president?

KONDRACKE: I think Biden's a perfectly plausible president. I can't think of a more experienced person in the Democratic Party.

BARNES: Here's what Mickey Kaus, our friend the pollster says. He said it's not that Obama has gravitas, he has seniority. But I guess that makes him plausible. All right, number two, does the choice do no harm to the ticket?

KONDRACKE: Well, this remains to be seen. I mean, Biden is famously loquacious, talkative. And he's gaffe gap prone. I mean, there have been a number of gaffes in his background and he's going to have to watch it. There's one other argument which plays into what you were saying about liberalism. This is a guy who voted against the 1991 Gulf War and in favor of the — I mean in favor of the 2002 Gulf War. How he's going to juggle that if that ever comes up is a question.

BARNES: The only way he would lose the ticket, I'll get to that. Number three, the V.P choice, does it boost the ticket? And I would say he boosts the ticket just by being a genial guy and not some sour puss and some guy that people like. That helps some.

KONDRACKE: Yes, and I think the Pennsylvania connection helps and the working class helps. I mean, that's Obama's weakness. And the foreign policy cache helps too.

BARNES: And number four, is there personal chemistry between the V.P. choice and the candidate?

KONDRACKE: Well, there seems to be. There was no great hostility in those debates during the campaign. Biden failed as the candidate pretty early. And one thing about Joe Biden, he will tell Barack Obama when he thinks he's wrong. As a matter of fact, Barack Obama may get tired of listening to Joe Biden.

BARNES: He's got a big job ahead of him. Look, the thing about Joe Biden is he can get along with anybody. So I think that will work.


The latest FOX NEWS poll shows that Obama is leading McCain 42 to 39 percent, but McCain's been keeping the race close. Other recent polls show that the race is narrowing big time. Obama's lead is down to two to three points in most head to head polls. And one poll actually shows McCain had a lead. But that's considered on outlier.

Now what's interesting is the McCain campaign is putting up propaganda to create high expectations for this convention. They put out a memo saying Barack Obama should be expected to at least match Bill Clinton's bump performance, convention bump performance in 1992 which was 16 points. And they say that the Biden announcement should give at least a five point bump. And so anything lower than that, they'll be in position to say well, this is not working.

BARNES: They should get five points. That's sort of the average. And the truth is about the bounces that presidential candidates get out of their convention, they usually fade in a matter of days.

So it really doesn't do much good. I think there are a couple things at this convention. We'll get to Hillary Clinton in a minute. But Barack Obama needs to give a good speech. And not just the same speech he's given a lot or not just some pure populism speech, some of which we heard in Springfield, Illinois. He's gotta give a speech that's a little different but also has what attracted people to him in the first place. That he transcends normal politics and so on. The reason he slipped so much and McCain has picked up is because he hasn't been transcending politics. The McCain ads have worked that sort of brought him to earth. Obama needs to rise again. Whether he can do that, I don't know. I doubt it.

KONDRACKE: there are two things he's got to do. One, he's got to really drive home the point which you heard Biden in the beginning are you better off than you were eight years ago? Most people don't think they are. But here is specifically how I'm going to make the country better in the next four years. And he's going to make it vivid to the average voters.

BARNES: I'm not sure that can happen. Obama's got to do it, because he can't lean on Biden to do it.

All right, coming up, we'll talk with Major Garrett about how Obama settled on Biden as his running mate. THE BELTWAY BOYS are live in Denver. We'll be right back.


KONDRACKE: Welcome back to Denver. The political world is certainly buzzing about Barack Obama's pick of fellow Senator Joe Biden as his running mate. Joining us from Springfield, Illinois, to talk about the new Democratic ticket is our own Major Garrett. Hi, Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Hello, boys, how are you?

KONDRACKE: Very well.

BARNES: Here's the big question. And that is why did Barack Obama pick Joe Biden as his running mate, a twice failed miserably as a presidential candidate on his own. He picked Biden and not Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia or Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas or Evan Bayh, the senator from Indiana who looked like he might be the one. Why Biden?

GARRETT: Three words: experience, aggression and choice. Experience in the last minute or within the last 48 hours the Obama campaign decided it could not leave its flank of experience unguarded. The polling data was showing them deep reservations about Obama's fitness for commander in chief. Aggression, they believe Joe Biden will be a very aggressive advocate for Barack Obama against John McCain. Three, choice. What I mean by that the choice issue. I'm told by several Democrats familiar with the Obama campaign, thinking essentially with problems of Hillary Clinton on their flank already there, if they had chosen Tim Kaine, not only pro-life or Kathleen Sebelius, also pro-life, that would have been a problem. Bayh was eliminated at the last minute because they thought if it was going to be senator, Biden brought more on the foreign policy, national security side than Bayh would bring on economics, so he won the tie breaker there.

KONDRACKE: Major, so now the McCain campaign is already got an ad which we'll show you right now which raises all the doubts that Biden raised about Obama's experience. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does Barack Obama's running mate say about Barack Obama?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOLOUS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: You're asked, is he ready? You said, "I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."

BIDEN: I think I stand by the statement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: and what does he say about John McCain?

BIDEN: I would be honored to run with or against John McCain. I think the country would be better off.


KONDRACKE: So, Major, how's the Obama campaign going to handle that? What's their rhetoric?

GARRETT: Well as the kids say, that was then, this is now. What the Obama campaign wants to do is focus entirely on what Biden said today and what he's going to say in the future. They know that these comments are going to come up. And what they're going to say is look, that's tired old politics bringing up things that were said purely in a political context, clearly when Joe Biden was thinking about himself, not Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.

They know this is going to be something they're going to have to deal with. And I think that's one of the reasons you're not going to see in the immediate future Barack Obama and Joe Biden together. They're going to be apart because I think the Obama campaign visually would like to not have the pictures of the two together while the McCain campaign or the Republicans bring up these critical comments from Biden about Obama.

BARNES: Look, I have to say I don't quite understand why. You've given the explanation, it just doesn't make much sense to me. I mean look, you pick your vice presidential running mate and then you go out and campaign with him, at least for a couple days. I think it's going to look weird if they're not together.

GARRETT: That's exactly right. And the precedent for this guys, as you well remember, is pretty well founded. Back in 2004, we all forget but John Kerry announced John Edwards via e-mail and they went and campaigned together for a full week before the Democratic Convention started some three weeks later. Same thing with Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. And we also remember the big bus tour that Al Gore and Bill Clinton took after the Democratic National Convention in 1992. But they also campaigned together before.

So today what we saw are for the first time in I would say recently modern American political history for Democrats, a one-time only event before the Democratic Convention. A late announcement, a one-time only event, and tomorrow Americans will see Barack Obama by himself. Won't see Joe Biden at all I don't suspect. And they'll see him for the first time again by himself in Denver at the convention.

KONDRACKE: So where are they going? Biden's coming here and Obama's going where?

GARRETT: Eau Claire, Wisconsin, then the Quad Cities, meaning Illinois and Iowa. Then on to Kansas City and Missouri, then up to Billings, Montana, and then on to Denver. So he's trying to hit those states that are battleground traditionally plus a new one, Montana. I will tell you, some Democrats think Montana's not going to be one. It's sort of a lost cause and kind of a fetish that the Obama campaign has about winning a state that has historically been so Republican on the upper Mountain West. But the Obama campaign believes what it achieved in the primary, it can possibly replicate in the general. So Barack Obama's going to be there before he gets to Denver.

BARNES: As you know, major, the Clinton people seem to be on a dragnet for grievances. Their latest one is that not only was Hillary Clinton not vetted to be a possible vice presidential running mate but she wasn't even consulted for her advice on who might be a good one. Is there any further gesture than obviously they've given the Clintons time in the convention? Any further gesture the Obama folks are going to make toward the Clintons?

GARRETT: I don't know if they're going to make it, but there's one gesture that they could make, and they haven't made so far. It really is the crux of this problem. The Clinton people I've talked to simply do not believe Barack Obama and his campaign advisers have done nearly enough to help Hillary Clinton retire her campaign debt. What they really want is access to Barack Obama's massive e-mail list of contributors, those grass roots contributors. The Obama campaign will not give it over. And that's the nub of this matter, guys. It's not about whether she was vetted. They mostly know that she was never going to be the running mate in the first place. Yes, it's a perceived slight, but the bottom line in the politics because it's a transactional business, oftentimes in this case it's about money. Obama's campaign committed to helping. The Clintons don't believe they're helping enough and this is a constant source of tension.

KONDRACKE: Thank you, Major. Coming up, John McCain stays away from his vice presidential pick. We'll tell you who's on the short list next.


BARNES: Welcome back to THE BELTWAY BOYS live in Denver, site of next week's Democratic Convention. Let's check out our ups and downs for the week. Up, John McCain. It may be Obama's week next week, but the McCain camp plans to send GOP operatives to Denver to counter punch the Democrats' message.

And McCain plans to announce his running mate next Friday, hoping to blunt any post-convention bounce for Obama.

KONDRACKE: Well McCain says that he hasn't decided who his running mate is. And they are meeting - he and his advisers are meeting at his ranch in Sedona, one of his seven or is it eight homes to cogitate about this over the weekend. Now it seems to me that Biden made a rather conventional - Biden constitutes a rather conventional choice for Obama. And I think the conventional choice for McCain would be Mitt Romney, who would bring presumably maybe bring Michigan into the poll. And knows a lot about economics and has made himself the darling of the conservative movement. I mean, Biden is a perfectly acceptable liberal candidate to go along with Obama. And I think Romney now would be acceptable — as a matter of fact, would make conservatives very happy and would unite the party.

BARNES: No, I think it would make a lot of them happy. But remember this is John McCain choosing somebody. John McCain, the maverick. You know John McCain, he's not like the rest of us or at least the rest of the politicians.

And if he had his choice, he'd pick Joe Lieberman. Lieberman explained why he can't do that, he's a Democrat. Or Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, happens to be pro-choice on abortion and that would not go over well in the convention. I think it's going to come down to - and there are other people who would be conventional choices might be good. Rob Portman, who's a special trade representative, budget director in the Bush White House, which is not an asset for him. But I think at the end of the day everybody else has a problem. Even Romney and so the default choice would be Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota.

KONDRACKE: His only problem is Tim who? He's not known outside of Minnesota. That's the problem. And you're right exactly about Rob Portman. He used to be my favorite and then I thought to myself with the Obama campaign slashing away the way at McCain ties to the Bush administration, they want his former budget director who was drafting Bush economics? I'm afraid not. Up, Hillary Clinton. After Obama and Biden, all eyes will be on Hillary Clinton at the convention. The question is will she play nice and give full support to the new Democratic ticket or use the convention as a staging ground for a comeback in 2012?

BARNES: Or 2016 if Obama happened to win. Look, I want to make one point that I think both Bob Beckel, the Democratic consultant and our colleague Bill Kristol assured that Hillary would be the best running mate for winning the election, she'd be the best running mate for Obama. And I think she would. But why didn't he pick her given that? Because he doesn't want her, if he wins, to be the vice president down the hall at the West Wing with Bill. And the whole Clinton crew conspiring against him and so on. That's why, I think. Now look, I think they'll praise Obama, she'll be fine. But when she does, it's never enough for the Obama people now no matter how much she extols him. Biden will do more and others will, so it will never be enough. They'll still criticize her.

KONDRACKE: I think that it is in her interest and she knows her own interest to knock herself out for this ticket. To go anywhere, anytime, especially work on her women constituents, on working class constituents and all that and have it not be able to be said if Obama loses this election, that she contributed to it in any way. And I predict she will because she will want to run in 2012 if he loses.

BARNES: Mort, she's had about two and a half months since Obama locked up the nomination to do some of that and she hasn't done much. A little, but not much.

Anyway, up, Virginia Senate candidate, Democratic Mark Warner. He's been tapped to deliver the keynote address at this week's convention, a launching pad for other speakers such as Bill Clinton and of course Barack Obama. Now why would you pick Mark Warner?

KONDRACKE: Virginia, Virginia, Virginia.

BARNES: I think you got it, very good. You literally took the words right out of my mouth. Very popular in Virginia, was a governor who I think didn't do much but Virginia pretty much runs on automatic pilot and so he came out of being extremely popular, great campaigner. Not a particularly good speech maker, but Obama certainly concentrating on Virginia. He spent a couple days there just this week. And I don't think Biden helps in Virginia, however.

KONDRACKE: What I think is funny is looking back through history about keynoters. Supposedly, they should be orators and set the tone and all that sort of thing. And you know, it's a mixed bag. Certainly Barack Obama launched his presidential career at the 2004 convention. Before that it was Harold Ford, Jr.

BARNES: You didn't like that speech?

KONDRACKE: I can't remember anything about it. I can't remember anything about Evan Bayh's speech. Then there was Zell Miller.

BARNES: That was a great speech.

KONDRACKE: You mean at the republican convention that was a great speech. And then my all time favorite, 1988, Guy Vander Jagt, Congressman Guy Vander Jagt and at the Republican Convention. It was a complete bust.

BARNES: He was bombastic just like Joe Biden is. All right, don't move a muscle. The buzz is comin' up next.


BARNES: What's the buzz, Mort?

KONDRACKE: Well if Joe Biden had not been picked as veep, he was the odds on favorite to be Secretary of State in an Obama administration. So now that he's veep, the odds on favorite for Secretary of State is Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana. This would make for a bipartisan cabinet and Obama has promised a lot of bipartisanship.

BARNES: Mort, they always promise that.

KONDRACKE: And in truth, Richard Lugar's foreign policy is not very different from Obama's or Joe Biden.


KONDRACKE: They're all soft power guys.

BARNES: Mort, I want to point to something that Major Garrett said, that the sticking point between Hillary and Obama is that he hasn't handed over his fund-raising list of — allowing her to actually pay off that debt. You know, my advice to Obama, give her the list. You'll get a better speech on Tuesday at the convention. All right. That's all the time we have this week. Join us next week when the boys will be at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, St. Paul.

Watch "The Beltway Boys" Saturday at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday at 1 and 6 a.m. ET

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