Is Biden an asset, or a handicap, to Obama?

Some polls show that Biden’s 'favorables' are lower than his 'unfavorables', leading to speculation about his future

In August 2008 when Joe Biden was selected as Barack Obama’s running mate, I characterized what Biden brought as “gravitas”. The young upstart Senator from Illinois was wise enough to choose a man of experience whose electoral assets were not the main consideration. Biden’s state of Delaware was already a Democratic bastion and his short lived candidacy for the Presidency was modest, to say the least. Yet, he was a man of experience, respected by colleagues, and able to step in if something happened to the President. It was a wise choice.

In July 2009, I later wrote that Joe Biden could be a one-term vice president, and could be asked to take up some new functions in a second Obama administration, thereby paving the way for Hillary Clinton and her potential candidacy for 2016. This was not based on competence, but rather on continuity, where the Clinton name had more potential to resonate beyond an Obama presidency.

Throughout the Obama administration, Biden has been seen as an active vice president, involved in all the major decisions. In fact, Biden is seen to have ambitions of his own and could very well be a candidate in 2016. Just recently, he is seen to have been instrumental in pushing the Obama “evolution” on same sex marriage. Some reports, however, indicate that the Vice President may have overstepped his role in forcing the President to take a position much earlier than he was prepared to do.

In recent days, some polls show that Biden’s ‘favorables’ are lower than his ‘unfavorables’, leading some speculations about his future.

Joe Biden represents much of what Obama doesn’t naturally bring to the campaign – passion that energizes the base, identification with blue collar workers, and retail politics. In a White House correspondents’ activity in Washington in the spring of 2010, I was able to see first-hand the Biden room magic. This is a man who can literally wow a crowd with his simplicity and his accessibility. It made me realize the wisdom of his selection as Obama’s veep.

The question is: has Biden outlived his usefulness to the ticket? With the speculation about Romney’s eventual choice and the tightness of the race, maybe Obama should consider an alternative choice in the buildup to the September convention. Hillary’s name usually surfaces. The general consensus among Democratic operatives, however, is that Obama will want Joe Biden to remain as his running mate.

There are compelling reasons to do so. Firstly, Biden mobilizes the liberal base and comes across as the “regular Joe” in a bid to motivate middle class voters. Secondly, Biden has earned his spot and one could argue that the less experienced Obama benefited from the judicious advice from his vice president. Thirdly, Obama needs the complementary skills of Joe Biden with his well documented experience in both domestic and foreign policy.

Ultimately, this election will not be decided by the running mates on the national tickets. At the end of the day, it will be Obama against Romney. The vice president choices can occasionally either reinforce the top of the ticket or bring it down, but rarely do people choose their president on the basis of the vice-presidential candidate. One may argue that Sarah Palin was a bad choice, but so was Dan Quayle in 1988 with George Bush senior. Yet, the latter won the election.

So Obama will either win or lose on the basis of his performance in office and on the campaign trail. And ultimately, in dealing with the economy and the future course of the nation. In this regard, Biden is not an obstacle to Obama’s election prospects in 2012.