The Senator from Scranton

Why Joe Biden's Pennsylvania roots mean more to Obama than his foreign policy cred.

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Getty Images

One of the most remarkable things about Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his vice presidential nominee—apart from the fact that he managed to keep it secret—is that in this remarkably contentious election season, it did not seem to anger anyone. That is a remarkable feat for a party so desperate to win and for a man who has been around long enough to have made more than one generation of enemies.

Even the anger of die-hard Clinton supporters over the choice was not about Biden but about them.

With all his well-documented strengths and weakness—the elder statesman, the brawler, the survivor, the Regular Joe—Biden was the ideal choice for splitting differences; he gives everybody a little bit of what they want, most of all Barack Obama.

Tonight, Joe Biden will need to demonstrate why Obama did not make a mistake. After his speech, debate will proceed apace about what Biden brings to the ticket and whether it is what Obama hoped for. The choice may be a simpler and more pragmatic one that it seems.

Biden is passionate and hot-headed where Obama is cool and cerebral. He’s a comfortingly thick-waisted and substantial 65-year-old, where Obama is suspiciously fit and skinny at 47. And of course, he is an old, white guy with a well-known story where Obama is, well, Obama.

The conventional wisdom on Biden is that he was chosen to answer charges of inexperience, particularly on foreign policy.

True. But in the end, it may just be that Joe Biden was born in Scranton, Pa., and Pennsylvania is, pun intended, a keystone in the Obama victory strategy. Biden, the Obama camp decided, is the best proxy to reach out to those white, working-class voters who flocked so decisively to Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

The audacity of the Biden pick is that Obama picked him to win a state in which he does not live. Biden represents Delaware, the second smallest state in the Union. With its three electoral votes, keeping the tiny eastern state in the Democratic column is hardly a strategic necessity. Voters will be left with the impression over the next two months that Joe Biden is the senator from Scranton. As soon as this convention is over, the Obamas and the Bidens will head directly to the Keystone State to affirm the importance of those 21 electoral votes to the Obama cause.

When the fight for the presidency goes into the homestretch after Labor Day, the race will take on a familiar cast: Republicans will be trying to hold on to Missouri, Ohio and Florida, and the Democrats will be trying to hang on to Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Whoever can flip one of the other side’s states into their column gets to advance to Pennsylvania Avenue.