Obama introduces running mate Biden

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. An estimated 35,000 people gathered at the Old State Capitol in Springfield to see the Democratic duo. But Republican Senator John McCain's camp was quick to criticize Obama's choice.

The weather on Obama's last visit to the state capitol was bitter cold. On Saturday, it was so hot and humid the paramedics had to treat dozens of people for dehydration. Maybe the heat or excitement or something else prompted Obama to introduce Biden as the next president of the United States, not the next vice president and Biden to call Obama, "Barack America." But other than that, it was another political extravaganza in Springfield.

The sea of humanity stretched for blocks Saturday morning outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield. A crowd estimated at 35,000 filled the plaza under the watchful eye of sharpshooters on the roof tops for Obama's first visit to Abraham Lincoln's hometown since he announced his candidacy 18 months ago.

"This is an historic moment and this is the first time we're going see Joe Biden with Obama. So I wouldn't have missed it," said Krista Donohue, Chicago Obama supporter.

"For months I've searched for a leader to finish this journey alongside me. Today, I have come back to Springfield to tell you that I've found that leader. And that man is Joe Biden," said Obama.

Obama's introduced the running mate that he revealed by text message in the middle of the night. Sixty-five-year-old Biden's Irish-Catholic, working-class roots and foreign policy expertise fill in some of the gaps in Obama's resume.

"Campaigns for president are a test of character and leadership, and in this campaign, one candidate has passed that test," said Biden.

The weather on Obama's last visit to Springfield in February of 2007 was freezing. But Saturday was so hot, paramedics treated many for dehydration and transported dozens to local hospitals. Those who braved the heat, though, said it was worth it.

"I think he made a good choice. Obama and Biden, I think it's a great team," said Kathleen Farid, St. Louis Obama supporter.

Hillary Clinton, the first choice of most Democrats for VP, praised Obama for selecting an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and a devoted public servant who will help Obama both win the presidency and govern the country. But Obama's opponent, McCain, released a new television ad that highlights Biden's comments about Obama in an ABC-TV debate during the primary season.

Biden now says that Obama is ready to be president because the country needs "a wise leader, not a good soldier who will produce four more years of Bush policies." And that, Biden says, is the key.

Biden and Obama did an interview Saturday with People magazine. Obama was then off to Wisconsin to campaign.

"He is uniquely suited to be my partner as we put our country back on track," Obama said of Biden.

Recent fighting in Russia and Georgia made it more imperative for Obama to find a running mate with foreign policy credentials.

"I think it's just terrific. This guy is going to mesh so well with Obama, that it's going to be a team you can't beat," said supporter Ernie Slottag.

"When it comes to the experience level, people have come to listen to what Barack Obama has to say about leading this nation and changing this nation, and he really has a strong approval across America," said Ill. Sen. Dick Durbin, assistant majority leader.

Polls indicate that voters trust Obama over McCain on the economy, but in matters of foreign policy, McCain has an edge with voters.

As for McCain, he is expected to announce his running mate next Friday or perhaps sooner as he's now intimating. The favorites at the top of his list are Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

The GOP presidential contender will have to "figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at" when considering his own economic future, said Biden, jabbing at the man he nevertheless called his personal friend.

It was a reference to McCain's recent inartful admission -- in a time of economic uncertainty -- that he was not sure how many homes he owns.

Before a vast crowd spilling out from the front of the Old State Capitol, Obama said Biden was "what many others pretend to be -- a statesman with sound judgment who doesn't have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong."

Democrats coalesced quickly around the 47-year-old Obama's selection of a seasoned veteran of three decades in the Senate -- a choice meant to provide foreign policy heft to the party's ticket for the fall campaign against McCain and the Republicans.

Biden is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with extensive experience in foreign relations.

McCain called Biden a "wise selection." But McCain indicated that he believed there was still plenty to criticize the Obama-Biden ticket on foreign policy.

"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 emerged as Obama's choice after a secretive selection process that reviewed at least a half-dozen contenders -- but evidently not Clinton, the former first lady who was Obama's tenacious rival across the primaries and caucuses of winter and spring.

The Democratic National Convention opens on in Denver Monday to nominate him as president and Biden as vice president, the ticket that Democrats hope to ride into the White House after eight years of Republican rule.

Polls indicate a highly competitive race at the end of a summer in which McCain eroded what had been Obama's slender advantage in the national surveys.

A security fence sprung up overnight around the Pepsi Center as the pace of preparations accelerated in advance of Monday night's opening session, and police on bicycles patrolled nearby streets.

Inside the sports arena, even the Zamboni machine -- the lumbering, wheeled vehicle used to resurface the ice between periods of hockey games -- had been moved out to make room for the Democrats.

McCain's convention opens on Labor Day in St. Paul, Minn. He has yet to select a running mate.

In addition, the Republican Party arranged for an independent expenditure advertising campaign to coincide with the Democratic convention. One individual familiar with the plans described a $2.25 million effort on cable and broadcast stations through Aug. 31 in the battleground states of Colorado, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Obama brought Biden on stage with his glowing introduction to the strains of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising."

The newly named running mate moved center stage in shirt-sleeves at a brisk trot that belied his 65 years, and embraced Obama.

"I'm glad to be here," said the man who has twice sought the presidency. Thousands of newly printed signs bearing the words Obama/Biden sprouted in the crowd that waited in anticipation in 90-degree temperatures.

Both men spoke for 16 minutes -- unlikely a coincidence given Biden's reputation for verbosity.

Obama's remarks were carefully crafted to emphasize Biden's accomplishments in the Senate, his blue-collar roots and -- above all -- his experience on foreign policy.

"I can tell you Joe Biden gets it," he said. "He's that unique public servant who is at home in a bar in Cedar Rapids and the corridors of the Capitol, in the VFW hall in Concord, and at the center of an international crisis," he said.

In contrast to the Obamas and the McCains, the Delaware senator isn't a multimillionaire. Biden and his wife, Jill, have $59,000 to $366,000 in assets and $140,000 to $365,000 in debts, including a $15,000 to $50,000 line of credit Biden co-signed with his son to cover college expenses, according to a financial disclosure report for 2007, which describes assets and liabilities in ranges.

Obama recounted the personal tragedy that struck Biden more than 30 years ago, within days of his election to the Senate, when his first wife and their child were killed in an automobile accident.

He said Biden raised his surviving children as a single parent, commuting between the Capitol and Delaware daily on the Amtrak train.

"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 three decades 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."

In a jab at McCain that foretold Biden's far sharper criticism, Obama said his political partner "will give us some real straight talk."

Biden blended praise for Obama and criticism of McCain.

"You can't change America and make things better for our senior citizens when you signed on to Bush's scheme of privatizing Social Security," he said.

"You can't change America and end this war in Iraq when you declare -- and again these are John's words -- 'No one has supported President Bush in Iraq more than I have,' end of quote."

David Axelrod, Obama's senior strategist, described Obama's vice presidential search as "a long process but it always pointed in Biden's direction."

Durbin, who is close to Obama, added, "Many others were discussed but my impression was that those three a few weeks ago were really the centerpiece -- Kaine, Bayh and Biden." He referred to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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