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How Joe Biden Got the Job

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Joe Biden left the Presidential Race on January 3rd, adamantly refusing to consider the #2 spot on any ticket. But by June, he had reconsidered, telling NBC’s Meet the Press, “If the presidential nominee thought I could help him win — am I going to say to the first African-American candidate about to make history in the world that, ‘No, I will not help you out like you want me to’? Of course I’ll say yes.”

Perhaps this was the first moment when we realized he must be under serious consideration for the job. As we followed the veepstakes relentlessly, we knew there was a lot going on behind the scenes, despite governors, senators and congressmen declaring no one was “interested in the job,” “being asked any questions” or “aware of Obama’s decision making process.” This decision was particularly difficult for Obama, who has been largely untested, as it was his first call that would indicate whether he is commander-in-chief material or ready to go back to the minor leagues.

In many ways the pick made sense. Obama knew he’d need someone as his running mate who could be ready to lead on Day One. “One of things we know is that you’ve got to have people who can bring about change,” said one senior Obama aide. “Unfortunately change is going to have to go through Capitol Hill, and you’ve got to have somebody who is knowledgeable about Capitol Hill.”

Obama’s Veep Vetters, Carolyn Kennedy and Eric Holder, had initially cast a very wide net, they said, but by the final month of the Veepstakes, it was narrowed down to Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Joe Biden of Delaware.

The ramification of Joe Biden was risky in a sense, given the barbed comments he had made while running against Senator Obama. Since he excelled in areas of Obama’s perceived weaknesses, the opposition would undoubtedly point to the decision as “filling in admitted gaps,” rather than amplifying the professed strengths. As a seasoned statesman, would he hurt Obama’s message of change — or become the vehicle for it?

Behind the scenes, Biden’s advisers were dilligently working to get him on the ticket. When the story emerged that Evan Bayh’s wife makes $1 million/year on corporate boards, Team Biden called the Obama camp to let them know Jill Biden made much less working as a teacher. Meanwhile, Tim Kaine’s aides were pointing out that Kaine spoke Spanish fluently, which could help in some swing states and Evan Bayh’s staff emphasized his stature in Indiana (a swing state.)

On August 6th, Obama was swinging through Minneapolis for a $1,000/person fundraiser and he snuck Senator Biden into a downtown hotel through the back door for a one-on-one 90-minute interview. “It was spirited and pragmatic,” said one adviser. At that meeting, Joe told Barack that his longtime experience of working as a liason between legislative and executive branches would “help carry out Obama’s agenda of change in a broken Washington,” an aide reported. He talked about his personal story — of his family’s Scranton working class roots and how he overcame the tragic death of his first wife and infant daughter to continue his calling. Obama thought long and hard about Joe Biden’s resounding inspirational message.

Four days later, Obama was heading to Hawaii for his vacation — and the Russia-Georgia conflict erupted, whisking Joe Biden off to visit the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili (via personal invitation!) “That was fortuitiously well-timed,” admits one Biden adviser. To Evan Bayh, this was discouraging news, one friend said. While in Hawaii, Obama confided that he was leaning toward Biden, particularly because of his personal story, but he wanted “to see how the decision sat with him” for a while.

Following Obama’s August 16th appearance with Pastor Rick Warren, answering a series of value-based questions, Biden advisers called the Obama camp, arguing that the Senator (a Roman Catholic) could be an “effective attack dog” against McCain on many issues. When asked about Biden’s propensity to be long-winded or make gaffes, one of his advisers aptly responded, “After having a president for eight years who can’t go beyond talking points, it’s a good thing that Biden can dig into the issues, even if he occasionally goes overboard.”

The week before the Democratic National Convention, Obama still had not decided definitively. On Thursday, August 21st, Senator Obama campaigned with Tim Kaine for a while — but ultimately went to his bus to inform Bayh and Kaine they were not his picks. He then called Joe Biden, who was at the dentist as his wife got a root canal, to tell him he’d made the cut. He told his friends and family that night and let his advisers know the following night that he’d need a good acceptance speech.

Obama’s senior adviser added that Biden will “have a fist in the face of John McCain every day” and that he “has this level of gravitas as well.” The Obama Camp also adds that Biden has a wide appeal to Rust Belt working class Catholics — a demographic that Obama needs to clamp down. They mentioned that “He’s ready to get out. He really wants to do this.” Obama’s advisers have watched some previously undecided Republicans express their support for McCain, which reminded them of the need to drum up support for the Democratic base too — with a candidate who they know well and admire.

“It’s really about the values that the Democratic party stands for and that he stands for,” Caroline Kennedy told Tom Brokaw this week. “It’s, you know, how to change the direction of the country, who can help do that, who’s got the relationships and the experience to help him govern — both domestically, as well as around the world.”