WASHINGTON — Barack Obama named Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate early Saturday, balancing his ticket with a seasoned congressional veteran well-versed in foreign policy and defense issues
Biden, who has served in the Senate since being elected at the age of 29, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Obama's decision leaked to the media several hours before his aides planned to send a text message announcing the running mate, negating a promise that people who turned over their phone numbers would be the first to know who Obama had chosen. The campaign scrambled to send the text message after the leak, sending phones buzzing at the inconvenient time of just after 3 a.m. on the East Coast.
A statement on Obama's Web site said Biden "brings extensive foreign policy experience, an impressive record of collaborating across party lines, and a direct approach to getting the job done."
In selecting Biden, Obama passed over several other potential running mates, none more prominent than former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, his tenacious rival in dozens of primaries and caucuses.
Clinton issued a statement Saturday praising Obama's decision and calling Biden "an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant."
The decision is intended to give the Democratic ticket depth in areas Obama was labeled as weak by his Republican opponents — foreign policy and global security.
In recent years, Biden has traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan two times and to Iraq eight times. He returned Monday from a fact-finding trip to Georgia.
The McCain camp was quick to react. "There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden. Biden has denounced Barack Obama's poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing — that Barack Obama is not ready to be president," McCain spokesman Ben Porritt said.
Early Saturday, McCain's campaign unveiled a new television ad entitled "Biden." The spot highlights statements made by Biden before he was selected to run on Obama's ticket in which Biden said he would be "honored" to run with McCain.
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He has endured tragedy and near death: Five weeks after he won his Senate seat in 1972, his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident.
And in 1988, he suffered a brain aneurysm and nearly died.
Biden’s voting record is in line with many Senate Democrats: He voted in 2003 to authorize President Bush to use military force in Iraq, and he also voted against the Bush tax cuts and against Republican Supreme Court nominees William Rehnquist, Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
He has run twice for the Democratic presidential nomination, once in 1988 and again this year.
He was forced to exit the 1988 race after he was caught having borrowed portions of a speech by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock — without giving him credit.
In 1987, as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden managed the Senate’s rejection of Bork, a conservative Supreme Court nominee by Ronald Reagan.
But some Democrats still blame Biden for allowing Thomas to win confirmation to the high court in 1991.
Biden has a reputation for verbosity. He often prefaces his questions to witnesses before his committee with remarks such as, “All kidding aside…” or “I don’t mean to be cute, but...”
He got less than glowing reviews in 2006 for his questioning of Alito during his confirmation hearings.
At one point Biden rambled on about Alito’s alma mater, Princeton.
“I really didn't like Princeton,” Biden told Alito. “I was an Irish Catholic kid who thought it had not changed. … I admit, one of my real dilemmas is I have two kids who went to Ivy League schools. I'm not sure my Grandfather Finnegan will ever forgive me for allowing that to happen. But all kidding aside, I wasn't a big Princeton fan.”
The Delaware Democrat’s long-windedness occasionally leads him to make remarks that prove to be embarrassing.
In 2007, he seemed to be talking down to Obama by calling him “clean” and “articulate.”
In 2006 he said, “In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.”
Intensely personal campaigner
Biden is an effusive, wisecracking, and often intensely personal campaigner. No Democratic politician is more literally "in your face" with voters.
At a campaign breakfast in Iowa in 2007, he claimed credit for getting money appropriated to build a new type of armored vehicle that reduced casualties from roadside explosives in Iraq by 70 percent.
Walking into the audience, Biden got six inches away from one woman’s face.
Biting off his words, Biden vehemently told her, “I will not cut one single solitary cent of the money that we need to build those vehicles to protect these kids — and they cost billions of dollars.”
During his bid for the nomination last year, Biden criticized Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Biden said Obama “didn’t know it was already U.S. policy” but “was attempting understandably to show more strength” on military matters.
And he criticized Obama and former Sen. John Edwards for “playing the populism card, the idea that rich are bad, poor are good, the nobility of America lies in the poor. I think that’s a losing general election argument; I think it’s a losing argument, period.”
He argued, “The rich are as patriotic as the poor, if you ask of them.”
Biden also parted company from Obama in a May 2007 vote on cutting off funds for operations in Iraq.
“I knew what the political vote was — it was to vote ‘no,’” Biden explained a few months later. “I had bets with my staff that every one of the senators who were running (for president) would vote against it, even though they knew better. I went ahead and voted for the funding.”
Presidential contenders Obama, Clinton and Sen. Chris Dodd were among the 14 senators who voted "no" on funding.
Biden has not always taken the predictable liberal Democratic line: He surprised some of his fellow Democrats in 1975 when he advocated a measure to ban the use of busing to school integration. He argued that busing was counter-productive.
Biden has begun a political dynasty in Delaware: his son Beau was elected state attorney general in 2006.
Biden commutes to the nation’s capitol every day from Wilmington on Amtrak.
NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell and the Associated Press contributed to this report.