DENVER - The Associated Press
Democrat Barack Obama's selection of Senate colleague Joe Biden as a running mate clearly was designed to blunt criticism from Republican John McCain, who was drawing virtually even in the polls by attacking the Illinois senator as an inexperienced elitist not ready for the White House.
Obama praised Biden, the hard-charging foreign policy dean with working-class roots, as a man "ready to step in and be president." And, in a clear shot at McCain, added: "What many others pretend to be - a statesman with sound judgment who doesn't have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong."
Thousands gathered on the grounds at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, on Saturday as Obama introduced Biden in the place where the 47-year-old son of a Kenyan father and white American mother announced his improbable run for the presidency a year and a half ago.
Even though most polls predict Democrats making notable gains this year in Congress - given the unpopularity of President George W. Bush and Republican scandals - Obama has been unable, so far, to open a significant lead in polls leading up the Democratic National Convention that opens here Monday.
Biden, who is 65, was clearly chosen over lesser-known Democrats to plug holes in Obama's relatively thin resume on the national political scene and to blunt McCain's relentless attacks on his lack of experience at a time when the United States is fighting two wars.
While polls show voters are most concerned about the country's wobbly economy - home mortgage foreclosures, high fuel costs and growing unemployment - McCain's appeal appears to be growing out of the lingering shock to Americans' sense of security from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
McCain called Biden a "wise selection." But McCain indicated that he believed there was still plenty to criticize.
"I know that Joe will campaign well for Senator Obama, and so I think he's going to be very formidable," McCain told CBS News. "I've always respected Joe Biden, but I disagreed with him from the time he voted against the first Gulf War to his position where he said you had to break Iraq up into three different countries. We really have different approaches to many national security issues."
Biden is a 35-year Senate veteran from Delaware, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and an unabashed political battler who showed straight away that he was keen to take on McCain.
Biden recalled McCain's recent inability to say how many homes he owns even as Americans are struggling not to lose theirs to mortgage bankers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, your kitchen table is like mine. You sit there at night ... after you put the kids to bed and you talk, you talk about what you need. You talk about how much you are worried about being able to pay the bills. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's not a worry John McCain has to worry about. ... He'll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at," Biden said.
Experience on foreign policy:
As Democrats quickly coalesced around the 47-year-old Obama's selection of Biden, Republicans recycled the Delaware senator's less-than-favorable past descriptions of Obama during the Democratic primary campaign when he, too, was seeking the party's nomination.
"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden," McCain campaign spokesman Ben Porritt said in a statement.
In Springfield, Obama's remarks were carefully crafted to emphasize Biden's accomplishments in the Senate, his working-class Catholic roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and - above all - his experience on foreign policy. Obama expects Biden to help him appeal to middle- and working-class voters in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania who favored Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who nearly upended Obama in the primaries.
"For decades, he has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn't changed him," Obama said, attempting to blunt an emerging Republican line of attack that notes Biden's 30-plus years in the polished corridors of the Capitol.
"He's an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are rooted firmly in the middle class."
Biden picked up on Obama's pledge to bring change to the nation, criticizing McCain as offering a continuation of Bush's unpopular policies.
"You can't change America when you know your first four years as president will look exactly like the last eight years of George Bush's presidency," Biden said.
Biden has established a generally liberal voting record and a reputation as a long-winded orator. As a member of the Judiciary Committee - he was its chairman from 1987 to 1995 - he has played a key role in considering anti-crime legislation, Supreme Court nominees and constitutional issues.
While the war in Iraq has been supplanted as the campaign's top issues by the economy in recent months, the recent Russian invasion of Georgia has returned foreign policy to the forefront.
Last weekend, Biden visited Georgia in his capacity as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman at the request of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Biden voted to authorize the Iraq war, but long ago became one of the Senate's surest critics of the conflict. He won praise for a plan for peace in Iraq that would divide the country into federal districts along ethnic and sectarian lines. His son, Beau, attorney general of Delaware, is due to spend a tour of duty in Iraq beginning this fall with his National Guard unit.
Biden dropped out of the 2008 presidential race after a poor finish in the leadoff Iowa caucuses. It was Biden's second try for the White House. The first ended badly in 1988 when he was caught lifting lines from a British speech.
On the Republican side, several party officials said that McCain had not settled on a running mate, although former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were under serious consideration.