Md. Democrats applaud choice

State leaders say Biden's roots help him understand local concerns

August 24, 2008|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,david.nitkin@baltsun.com

DENVER - Maryland Democrats cheered yesterday a presidential ticket that will include a senator from neighboring Delaware with family ties to Baltimore, saying Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s knowledge of Chesapeake Bay troubles could spark sorely needed protections.

Gov. Martin O'Malley predicted that Biden would become a "critical ally" on the environment if elected, and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said the senator has a "keen understanding" of the Chesapeake's needs because he is "from a border state and comes every day through Maryland" during his commute to Washington.

Barack Obama's choice of Biden, state Democrats said, would also help ease concerns of voters who say Obama lacks the international affairs experience needed by a head of state and would also mitigate the elitist label that critics are trying to pin on the presumptive nominee.

With Biden's upbringing in Scranton, Pa., "they definitely cannot accuse Joe of being an elitist," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore. "I have always seen Joe as just your regular guy, the same kind of guy who I met during the summer when I worked at Bethlehem Steel."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County said that Obama "has exhibited tremendous judgment on foreign policy issues, but I think Joe Biden, with his long track record of experience in that area, will further strengthen those credentials."

State Republicans - joined privately by some Democrats - said the selection of Biden undercut Obama's overriding campaign message of change.

Republicans were quick to revive critical quotes that Biden leveled at Obama's relative inexperience during the primary season, when Biden was a contender for the presidency.

"I think Obama was desperate for some foreign policy heft," said Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Justin Ready, calling Biden the "ultimate insider."

On the eve of Biden's campaign launch last year, the senator was quoted in an article calling Obama "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," a description that some decried as broadly offensive. Biden apologized.

"This is showing [Obama] is a bigger person and can get beyond that," said Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, an Obama supporter, adding, "I think you need a balance" of both change and experience on the ticket this year.

Dixon said Biden would be a friend of urban areas, noting his support for the Clinton-era program that gave cities more money to hire police officers.

Biden's father, Joseph R. Biden Sr., who died in 2002 at age 86, was born in Baltimore and moved to Wilmington, Del., as a boy. Genealogical records show that the younger Biden's great-great-grandparents married in Baltimore in 1852, and published reports indicate that his great-grandfather was a Chesapeake Bay waterman.

Biden has looked to Maryland for fundraising help. Lawyer and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, a regular contributor to Democrats, is among his top donors, the Web site Politico reported.

Like Maryland, Delaware is expected to land in the Democratic column this year, but with only three electoral votes, the state carries scant national significance.

But his selection nonetheless offers some strategic help, O'Malley said.

Because of Delaware's size and proximity, "it's almost like he's the third senator in Pennsylvania, which is a swing state," O'Malley said. "Also, he is Roman Catholic, and that is a critical bloc of voters in a national election."

He is also regarded as an aggressive campaigner with an ability to deliver sharp attacks.

Brushing aside concerns about Biden's well-known propensity for speechifying, O'Malley said, "I think his eloquence and his quick wit enable him to be a very effective counterpuncher to the anonymous 527s and the mudslinging that John McCain is going to encourage his allies to engage in."

Biden has been a national figure for decades, and his associates include a number of Marylanders.

State Democratic Party Chairman Michael E. Cryor was a deputy campaign manager during Biden's brief run for the White House in 1988, which collapsed amid charges that he had plagiarized a speech.

"Folks I worked with became players," said Cryor, who said the calls he was fielding yesterday indicated significant enthusiasm for the ticket.

"He brings something to the ticket that people want to see," Cryor said. "I think the party need not run away from the idea that Biden counters the message of change."

Baltimore Sun reporter Paul West contributed to this article.

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