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Biden Hailed as Helpful to House Democrats

08.26.08

Biden Hailed as Helpful to House Democrats

By Jonathan Allen and Edward Epstein, CQ Staff

From the perspective of Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, the party activist who’s the Democratic challenger in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley-based 15th Congressional District, Barack Obama could not have picked a better running mate than Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of neighboring Delaware.

“There’s a reason that he’s called the third senator from Pennsylvania,” she said by telephone after a day of politicking at an annual fundraising event for local charities in Coplay, which is about a five-mile drive north of Allentown. “The folks I was shaking hands with were all talking about Sen. Biden.”

Bennett has more reason than most Democratic candidates to welcome Biden’s selection, as he was born in Scranton to the north and has long bought time on the Philadelphia airwaves, which also carry into the Lehigh Valley, to communicate to Delaware voters.

But she joined Democratic officials Sunday in predicting that Biden would be a help to candidates in competitive House districts across the country, not just to the eight Pennsylvanians — four challengers and four incumbents — who are in competitive races in the state. “I’m confident that he will help every Democrat on the ticket,” she said.

Party leaders clarified early on that they wanted Obama to pick a running mate with a more centrist bent ## a position informed by their desire to help incumbents and challengers in competitive seats.

Biden fits that bill, according to House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who has leanings similar to Biden’s on a range of foreign and domestic policies. “The president makes change. The president is the leader,’’ he said. “What a six-term senator does is bring experience to make the agent of change effective.’’

He said one reason Biden will help Obama is that voters will trust him. “I think people think he could be president, which is important,’’ Hoyer said.

Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, a leader of the conservative Democrats known as Blue Dogs who often represent very competitive districts, echoed Hoyer’s assessment of Biden. “Joe Biden’s been in the United States Senate since I was in the sixth grade,” Ross noted. “If anyone was criticizing the ticket before for a lack of experience, that should now be put to rest.”

Democrats are excited about an election in which analysts uniformly predict they will pick up seats in both the House and Senate for the second consecutive cycle.

But that excitement is tempered by a sensitivity to the needs of incumbents and challengers who are better off not identifying squarely with the party. They have encouraged candidates such as Bennett to spend this week in their districts rather than in Denver at this week’s national convention.

In Biden, they see a national candidate who can play particularly well in swing districts, reassure voters who are concerned about Obama’s credentials and help deliver a call for change that they are sounding up and down the ticket.

“This guy has served in Washington, but he has never become old Washington,” House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina said, noting that Biden commutes home to Wilmington each day the Senate is in session.

Bennett, who faces second-term Republican Rep. Charlie Dent in November, said about half of the people she talked to while campaigning in Pennsylvania on Sunday wanted to talk about Biden. “They were bringing him up,” she said. “He’s got our values.”

http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docID=news-000002940489

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