Average Joe

By Jack Atherton - email/bio

Joe Biden's job is to bring Barack Obama white, blue collar guys -- a tall order. Senator Obama started losing those voters at the beginning of March. First the Clintons and their surrogates played the race card. Then ABC aired the gospel according to Reverend Jeremiah Wright. We next overheard Obama's remarks to San Francisco supporters about folks in "small towns in Pennsylvania and the Midwest" who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Stir all that and more and what did Obama get? A string of primary losses to Hillary Clinton in virtually every big Democratic bastion, and now poll numbers that trail, by a country mile, this year's generic preference for Democrats.

Hillary's base was older white women. Surveys indicate, for now, that many if not most of them will stay home or vote for John McCain. Obama passed up running with the woman who won 18 million primary votes and whose gender would have reinforced his message of change-as regards identity, if nothing else. To mollify Clinton, she will have a film about herself shown at the convention, a prime-time speech and a state-by-state roll call to remind the nation that Obama won by a whisker, due entirely to the Democrats' screwy way of apportioning delegates. Hillary - who's focused on 2012 -- will probably halt that embarrassing spectacle at some point, but her point will be made.

So which voters does Joe Biden attract? Probably not a lot of Hillary diehards - or even the ones who would have settled for Missouri's Senator Claire McCaskill or Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (whose dad, former Ohio Governor John Gilligan, might have delivered some Buckeye votes). Biden's best known quality is one that doesn't sit well with a lot of women. Critics and even many fellow Democrats call him a blow hard. He's been shown repeatedly, at nationally televised confirmation hearings, using up all his allotted time making meandering speeches, leaving time for not a single question. And his gaffes are legendary. One involved Biden calling Obama "the first mainstream African American (presidential candidate) who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

One part of the Delaware lawmaker's story will humanize him, particularly among women. Biden lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident soon after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972.

But even that terrible accident reminds you of something else. Joe Biden has been in the Senate for 35 years. During that time he's served under Republican and Democratic presidents as chairman of the judiciary and foreign relations committees. Whatever else Joe Biden is, he's not an agent of change.

Which brings us back to white, blue collar guys. Pundits say those voters care most about the foreign policy experience Obama lacks and Biden supplies. But during his six terms in the Senate, Biden's opposed the Reagan arms buildup credited by many with helping to topple the Soviet Union.  Biden opposed the first Gulf war, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. On the other hand, Biden voted to authorize the current Iraq war and chided Senator Obama for trying to cut off funding, while praising John McCain's call for a troop surge. But Biden also proposed partitioning Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish autonomous regions, a plan that opponents believe would have destabilized Iraq disastrously, inviting Iran to dominate fellow Shiites and al-Qaeda to undermine fellow Sunnis, while inciting calls for independence among Turkey's neighboring Kurds. It's also a plan that arguably was short-sighted, given the success of Iraq's coalition government.

And there's one last point. Joe Biden dropped his own quest for the presidency early in 1988 after a plagiarism scandal, and dropped out again this year after winning less than 1% of Iowa's caucus votes. There's no evidence that he is a national magnet - among fellow Catholics, women -- or Average Joes.