From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
DENVER -- We confirmed the news after midnight, and then after trying to get a little sleep, this text message at about 3:00 am ET woke us up: "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3pm ET on www.BarackObama.com. Spread the word!" A 3:00 am wake-up call, you just can't make this stuff up. And there were two collective sounds you could hear over the beeping cellphones and the buzzing blackberries. On the Democratic side, it was a collective "phew." As the days got nearer for the pick, it was hard to find a Democrat -- even savvy Clintonites -- who weren't hoping it would be Biden. Only the most strident Hillary supporters appear to be upset this morning. On the GOP side, the sound you heard was disappointed silence. Of everyone on the short list, the candidate many Republicans least wanted to see Obama pick was Biden. Sure, they've already trotted out their talking points. And the McCain camp even produced a rapid-response TV ad highlighting some unkind words Biden said about Obama during the primaries. (We assume this now means McCain won't be picking Romney, right? And doesn't the McCain ad actually send the message to swing voters that Obama's willing to surround himself with critics?) But there are too many intellectual conservatives (see David Brooks) who believe Biden's the most qualified guy Obama could have realistically picked.
*** Joe's strengths…: As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has plenty of foreign policy experience -- something viewed as a weakness for Obama. Also, Biden's most recent presidential bid raised his national profile, making him a politico whom most Americans know, which could help reassure some voters who have doubts about Obama. In addition, whether it has been in recent speeches or on Meet the Press, Biden has showed that he's up to this veep responsibility: whacking the opposition. What's more, during his presidential bid in '07-'08, Biden demonstrated that he's a very good debater, a quality the Democrats might want to showcase during the vice presidential debate scheduled for October 2. And electorally, Biden could help lock down Pennsylvania, as well as connect better than Obama has in blue-collar Michigan and the "U" of Ohio (Toledo to Youngstown). A few more thoughts… Biden is someone that will play well with older white voters, a demographic group Obama's struggled with, and he's very popular with labor and trial lawyers, which while helpful financially for Obama and in the Rust Belt, could fire up the business community even more for McCain.
*** … And his weaknesses: Obama has railed against Washington and Washington insiders during his campaign, but few people are more inside Washington than Biden, who has served in the Senate for 36 years (by comparison, McCain has been in the Senate for 22 years). Furthermore, Biden often has been a gaffe machine -- whether it was calling Obama "clean" and "articulate" (news that marred his presidential announcement in 2007) or stating in 2006, "You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent." And there was that plagiarism scandal that knocked him out of the 1988 presidential race. Perhaps the biggest question: Just how well will Obama and Biden mesh? Has Biden been anybody's No. 2, ever? He's run for president TWICE for a reason (the first time Biden ran, Obama was just starting law school, by the way). Biden has an actual "boss" for the first time in his political career. Is he ready to ride shotgun? And is it a problem that Obama-Biden is a mirror image of Bush-Cheney from 2000? A charismatic, inexperienced nominee taps a more experienced, dare we say, arrogant No.2? In fact, there are a lot of Republicans who believe they can sell Obama-Biden as "the Audacity of Arrogance times two."
*** Back to Springfield: When Obama and Biden appear together this afternoon at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, IL, it will come just more than 18 months after Obama officially launched his presidential bid from that historical venue. (It's where Lincoln gave his famous 1858 "House Divided" speech, in which he railed against slavery and how it had torn the nation into two. "A house divided against itself cannot stand.") While today's event will be a bit warmer than it was on that February 2007 day -- it was close to 10 degrees! -- that announcement back then was the first sign that there was something to Obama's candidacy. Despite the frigid weather, close to 20,000 showed up on that day, and the crowds at his rallies only grew. Now, with the polls tightening, Obama needs to draw on some of that Springfield magic. Can he deliver?
*** The big bounce? Now for some non-VP news… Yesterday, the McCain campaign released a memo saying that Obama should receive a 15-point (!!!) bounce from his convention. But here's a big caveat: We haven't had a back-to-back convention schedule in a very long time, so it may make historical comparisons moot. But let's crunch some numbers from the Gallup chart McCain's campaign sent around. The average Dem convention bounce since '64 is 6.2 points. The average GOP convention bounce since '64 is 5.3 points. The average FIRST convention bounce: 6.3 points. The average SECOND convention bounce is: 5.2 points. With just three instances since '64 of open-seat presidential elections, it's useless to attempt an average if you did this average based on Olympic score (tossing the high and the low), the average convention bounce would be 5.6 points, which feels about the right bar for expectations. The Clinton example the McCain folks are using -- 16 points after the '92 Dem convention! -- is really a reach considering that Ross Perot (who was the front-runner the week before the Dem convo) dropped out the week of the Dem convo. So toss the Clinton bounce out any analysis window.
*** Saying goodbye to those red states? In addition to that memo, the McCain campaign yesterday furiously pounced on a report that Team Obama was pulling its advertising in red states -- like Alaska, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, and North Dakota -- suggesting that the Obama camp was abandoning its (almost) 50-state strategy. But as Lee Corso might say, "Not so fast, my friend." A senior Obama campaign source told First Read that the campaign wasn't planning to be on TV next week during their convention, but the McCain is up with negative spots in 11 states, and they wanted to match them in those 11 (which doesn't include any of those ruby-red states). Moreover, the source assures us that the campaign will resume its larger TV buy once the convention ends.
*** On the trail: McCain is down in Sedona, AZ. Obama holds his rally in Springfield at the Old State Capitol.
Countdown to Dem convention: 2 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 9 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 73 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 150 days
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