The first test for picking presidential running mates is to avoid making a mistake, and Barack Obama passed with flying colors. His selection of Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden is pragmatic, safe and reassuring even if it lacks the wow! factor. It will not dramatically alter the race, but it is a smart choice that should feel comfortable to many voters still sizing up the younger man at the top of the ticket.
Biden provides the seasoning in Washington and the experience in foreign affairs that Obama critics complain the presumptive nominee lacks. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has traveled the world and wrestled with most of the major international issues over the last 15 years. With polls showing only half of registered voters believe Obama has sufficient experience to be president, Biden should help ease those doubts and offer ready comebacks to the attacks from Sen. John McCain.
Obama's choice also demonstrates the Illinois senator is secure enough to tolerate strong opinions and occasional differences within his inner circle — in sharp contrast to President Bush. Obama opposed the war in Iraq from the start. Biden voted for the 2002 resolution on Iraq, although he came to be a harsh critic of the war. He would not be an echo chamber in a new administration and could be counted on to speak his mind.
Of course, Biden has a history of occasionally talking (and talking and talking) before he thinks. But that can be the price of candor and spontaneity on the campaign trail. His working-class background and rough edges will complement the Obama smoothness. He should help with blue-collar workers and Catholics, and he is popular in South Florida with Jewish voters who have been slow to warm to Obama.
Republicans were predictably quick to attack the choice, airing television ads to exploit lingering disappointment among Hillary Clinton supporters. But Biden is a safer pick than the former first lady, with less immediate upside but fewer possibilities of driving away undecided voters. And while Biden may undercut Obama's pitch for change, Clinton would have undermined it even more.
With Biden, Obama made a solid if not sensational choice. Now it is McCain's turn to decide whether to play it safe in his selection of a running mate or to recruit someone who could change the dynamics of the race.