Obama and Biden: Two sides of the coin

TOLEDO, Ohio–Political observers said adding Joe Biden to the Democratic ticket for president would do a lot of things for Barack Obama: provide him with a better connection to middle-class voters, shore up his foreign policy profile, perhaps give him a shot at winning a battleground state.

Add something else: Biden has taken the oh-so-serious, scripted Obama campaign into the realm of improvisational theatre

Take Sunday at a small-scale event in here in Toledo. Biden was doing his job, laying out the case for Obama, when he simply couldn’t resist the urge to riff.

“There’s a gigantic — gigantic — difference between John McCain and Barack Obama, and between me and I suspect my vice presidential opponent . . . Well there’s obvious differences,” he paused. “She’s good-looking,”

The crowd laughed, and one woman shouted that Biden was “gorgeous.”
“Where’s that person?” Biden asked. “Who said that? Who said that? Would you say that again for my wife?”

Obama, by contrast, has called Gov. Sarah Palin “compelling” and “dynamic.” He’s never mentioned the former Alaska beauty queen’s appearance.

But Biden wasn’t finished. “I haven’t heard that in a long, long, long time,” he said. And with that, he walked over and put his arm around the seated Obama in a chummy, Uncle Joe kind of way. “And hanging out with this lean, young-looking guy is making me feel pretty old, you know what I mean? “I thought I was in pretty good shape ’til I hung out with this guy.”

“Joe’s looking good,” said Obama. (Now imagine this exchange between Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.)

Over the past several days, as Obama and Biden have campaigned together in Pennsylvania and Ohio, a dynamic has emerged. Where Obama tends to employ his trademark soaring oratory and sweeping gestures, Biden has served as a change-up. He’s a go-for-the-throat gambler, tending to condense policy points into bumper stickers. Saturday, when asked about the approaching Hurricane Gustav, he simply said. “Don’t ride it out. Ride it out of town.”

Physically, where Obama tends to stay fixed in one spot, Biden sweeps the perimeter, brandishing the microphone around like he’s hosting a daytime talk show.

He makes the case for his ticket in man-of-the-people terms, preferring to begin sentences with “Ladies and gentlemen” and “Folks..” — as if he’s standing in for Ed Sullivan or Will Rogers. And so far at least, crowds have responded, especially when he mixes in references to his “small-town” roots in Scranton, Pa and Wilmington, Del and talks about his father telling him “Champ, when you get knocked down, get right back up.”

Obama, for his part, hasn’t held Biden back. At times such as the Sunday event in Toledo, in responding to questions, Obama would turn the microphone over to his running mate so that he could add his two cents. And Biden hasn’t hesitated to say “Can I add something here?” The two seem to genuinely get along.

Biden improvising is something, of course, that is freighted with some hazard, as he has a reputation for speaking faster than he can think. The Republican National Committee promotes a “Biden Gaffe Clock” which it re-sets every time he says something out of left field.

And Sunday, just as he was finishing up, one such moment occurred. Concluding his opening remarks, Biden said, “It’s my time.” Then, after a beat, he realized that he may just want to mention the presidential nominee as well. “It’s Barack’s time,” he quickly added.


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