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Obama says VP pick Biden 'ready to step in'

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joe Biden had their first appearance as the Democratic Party's ticket in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., on Saturday.Alex Brandon / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Barack Obama introduced Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware on Saturday as a man “ready to step in and be president,” and the newly minted running mate quickly turned his campaign debut into a slashing attack on Republicans seeking four more years in the White House.

Sen. John McCain would have to “figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at” when considering his own economic future, said Biden, jabbing at the man he called his personal friend.

It was a reference to McCain’s recent inartful admission — in a time of economic uncertainty — that he was not sure how many homes he owns.

Before a vast crowd spilling out from the front of the Old State Capitol, Obama said Biden was “what so many others pretend to be — a statesman with sound judgment who doesn’t have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.”

U.S.Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, a Democrat, visits the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008. Biden arrived in Georgia at the request of Georgian President Mikhail Saakshvili for meetings with government officials as well as citizens forced to flee their homes. Georgy Abdaladze / AP

Democrats coalesced quickly around Obama’s selection of the 65-year-old veteran of three decades in the Senate — a choice meant to provide foreign policy heft to the party’s ticket for the fall campaign against Sen. John McCain and the Republicans.

Obama made a symbolic choice for the ticket’s first joint appearance. It was a brutally cold winter day more than a year ago when he stood outside the historic structure in the Illinois capital to launch his quest for the White House.

He returned in sunshine, the party’s improbable nominee-in-waiting, a young black man who outdistanced a crowded field of rivals.

Thousands of newly printed signs bearing the words Obama/Biden sprouted in the crowd, waiting in anticipation in 90-degree temperatures.

Biden 'gets it'
Obama’s remarks were carefully crafted to emphasize Biden’s accomplishments in the Senate, his blue-collar roots and — above all — his experience on foreign policy.

“I can tell you Joe Biden gets it,” he said. “He’s that unique public servant who is at home in a bar in Cedar Rapids and the corridors of the Capitol, in the VFW hall in Concord, and at the center of an international crisis,” he said.

Obama recounted the personal tragedy that struck Biden more than 30 years ago, within days of his election to the Senate, when his first wife and their child were killed in an automobile accident.

He said Biden raised his surviving children as a single parent, commuting between the Capitol and Delaware daily on the Amtrak train.

“For decades, he has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn’t changed him,” Obama said, attempting to blunt an emerging Republican line of attack that notes Biden’s 30 years in the polished corridors of the Capitol.

“He’s an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are rooted firmly in the middle class.”

'Real straight talk'Obama brought Biden on stage with his rousing introduction to the strains of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.”

The newly named running mate moved center stage in shirt-sleeves at a brisk 65-year-old man’s trot, embracing Obama.

“I’m glad to be here,” he said. The loquacious Biden spoke at least as long as Obama, who at one point he called “Barack America.”

In a jab at McCain that foretold Biden’s far sharper criticism, Obama said his political partner “will give us some real straight talk.”

Biden offered parts praise for Obama and criticism of McCain.

“You can’t change America and make things better for our senior citizens when you signed on to Bush’s scheme of privatizing Social Security,” he said.

“You can’t change America and end this war in Iraq when you declare — and again these are John’s words — ’No one has supported President Bush in Iraq more than I have,’ end of quote. ladies and gentlemen, you can’t change America, you can’t change America when you know your first four years as president will look exactly like the last eight years of George Bush’s presidency.”

Obama was heading for Wisconsin while Biden returned to Delaware to prepare for the fall campaign.

Others react to Biden pick
Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton called Biden "an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant." Clinton, Obama's most persistent rival through the primaries and the caucuses, was an also-ran in Obama's vice presidential search.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Obama-Biden ticket would bring the change the country needs, including a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

The Obama-Biden rally was taking place at the old state Capitol in Springfield, where the Illinois senator kicked off his presidential campaign nearly 20 months ago. The two candidates will be be joined by Obama’s wife, Michelle; Biden’s wife, Jill; and the Bidens’ three adult children.

Biden, who has served in the Senate since being elected at the age of 29, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

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.

Biden's straightforward style and working-class Catholic roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, were also expected to help Obama appeal to middle- and working-class voters in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania who favored Clinton in the primaries.

The Democratic National Convention opens on Monday in Denver and will formally anoint Obama as the party's presidential nominee and confirm Biden as his running mate later in the week.

McCain called Biden, his longtime Senate colleague and friend, to congratulate him, McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said. "It was a brief conversation. They've known each other for years," he said.

But McCain's campaign wasted no time trying to turn the selection to Obama's disadvantage.

It quickly produced a television ad featuring Biden's previous praise for McCain and comments critical of Obama. In an ABC News television interview last year, Biden had said he stood by an earlier statement that Obama was not yet ready to be president and "the presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."

"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden," McCain campaign spokesman Ben Porritt said in a statement. "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."

Some of Biden's Republican colleagues in the Senate praised the Delaware Democrat, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska called Biden "the right partner for Barack Obama" and the decision "good news for Obama and America."