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Biden's time has finally arrived

Joe Biden can be counted on to  make the case for Barack Obama and prosecute the case against John McCain.  But NBC News political director Chuck Todd wonders will he control his instinct to be No. 1?
Biden 2008 Democratic Convention
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden takes part in a walk-through rehearsal Tuesday.Ted S. Warren / AP

Believe it or not, Joe Biden has been a U.S. senator (36 years) longer than he's been a private citizen (29 years). And for most of those 36 years, Biden dreamed of being on the national stage accepting a place on the Democratic ticket.

He's the first two-time presidential candidate to get picked for VP since Carey Estes Kefauver in 1956, and that is just one of the reasons why I think the Biden pick is one of the more intriguing.

By tapping Biden, Obama picked someone who has longed for the top spot. You don't run for president twice if you don't have plenty of pent-up ambition, and what that means for Biden the candidate I think is still an open question.

Wednesday night, Biden will likely be pretty good at doing two things: making the case for Obama and prosecuting the case against John McCain. This is the easy part. Biden is so excited he's finally been validated that he'll now be the loyal Obama foot soldier.

Driver or front-seat passenger?
What I'm waiting to see is how Biden stops himself from trying to drive the car. His instinct is to be the No. 1, and he could answer questions and make policy if caught in too many unscripted moments.

Behind the scenes, Biden will be an asset to Obama. His political instincts are pretty good when meeting with advisers. The danger with Biden is an off-the-cuff moment where he presents himself as the decider in this Obama-Biden relationship. It's not a big problem, but it's a potential speed bump.

The thing to know about Biden is that he's usually pretty good about dialing up and dialing down the volume of his voice to make a point. I've seen him in union halls and he can get those burly guys hootin’ and hollerin’.

Of course, Biden has the unenviable task of following Bill Clinton. Not right away of course. But since Clinton speaks in cable prime time, and since Bubba is catnip for us cable folks, we'll be over-dissecting the thing for hours.

Great political theater
The bottom line on what I'm expecting from the former president:

  • I think his competitive streak will come out and he'll use his speech to make a case against McCain (and for his own '90s stewardship) as a way of showing Obama how to do it.
  • He'll want his speech to be a teaching moment for the campaign. Clinton did similar things for both Al Gore and John Kerry and the two didn't always listen. While Bubba's personal political instincts for himself (and even for Hillary) are not great, he's very good at framing a political argument in the abstract for another candidate.
  • And last, I expect little drama with the roll call. Considering how well Hillary' speech went over, everything should be pro-forma.

Bottom line: As good as the speeches were on the showmanship scale Tuesday night, I expect Wednesday night to be a tad better.

Both Clinton and Biden, when given an editor, can be great theater.

The danger for both is when they go on for too long.