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Why--and How--obama Picked Biden

Today's New York Times has some of the backstory on the vice presidential selection process and why Barack Obama ultimately settled on Joe Biden. The overarching narrative is more or less what it appeared to be. According to the article, which is by Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg, Obama was initially wary of Biden. But research by his vetting team and conversations with some of Biden's longtime Senate colleagues, including Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Governor Ed Rendell, convinced Obama that Biden was a "worker"--and somebody whom Obama could trust.

Political considerations, naturally, played a big role in the decision. But the Times story, like others you can find online this morning, suggests it was less about easing voter fears about Obama's inexperience and more about swaying blue-collar voters, with whom Obama has trouble connecting. As Axelrod reached out to Biden's associates, "Reports came back that he was not only potentially more energetic and disciplined than widely known, but also that he had a distinct appeal suited to the areas throughout the industrial Midwest where Mr. Obama had struggled in the primaries." (It's certainly possible that the Obama campaign is spinning the decision this way, in order to downplay Obama's vunlerability to the inexperience charge. But it also makes sense that Biden's ability to woo working class voters really was a top consideration.)

It's been widely speculated that the ambivalence of liberals and netroots activists showed towards Evan Bayh discouraged Obama from selecting him. And it does appear that Bayh was Obama's second choice. But it's not clear, at least from this article, how big (if any) a role the left's reservations played in the final decision. When Obama called Bayh late last week, to say that he was choosing somebody else, Obama apparently cited the situation in Georgia--where Biden, the longtime foreign poilcy hand, had just visited--as a major factor.

The tick-tock of how it all happened is revealing. One reason the Obama campaign was able to keep the search so confidential was that only a handful of people were privy to information, right up until the last minute. Staff began preparing for the roll-out in early July, writing speeches, sketching out media plans, and securing private plans to ferry the final choice back to Illinois. But, uncertain of the final choice, the rest of the staff had drawn up these plans for all four of the finalists: Tim Kaine and Kathleen Sebelius, as well as Bayh and Biden.

The press obviously got the short list right. Most of the speculation I saw did, in fact, focus on Bayh, Biden, Kaine, and Sebelius. But beyond that, media speculation went a bit awry. Texas Congressman Chet Edwards, the subject of some furious last-minute coverage, appears not to have been a finalist. Nor was Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, whom many observers (including me!) touted feverishly. There's no indication Reed got serious consideration, although it's likely--as has been reported recently--he opted out of the process himself by asking not to be vetted.

The Obama campaign did, however, look at two other candidates very seriously. But it was two of Obama's former rivals, Christopher Dodd and Bill Richardson, whose names rarely came up in recent coverage. At one point, the lack of buzz prompted Richardson to ask Obama, during a phone conversation, whether he was really under serious considertion. "No, you're in this thing," is what Obama responded, according to the Times. 

One last note: When Obama called Biden on Thursday, to offer the nomination formally, he reached Biden at the dentist's office, where Biden's wife was getting a root canal. If the campaign turns out badly for Biden, the writer of some future retrospective has a terrific lead.

--Jonathan Cohn