Obama's choice of Biden: Solid, but not safest, pick

Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford eventually moved into the Oval Office and changed history. Dick Cheney, critics would say, didn't even need to move because he has run the country for seven years anyway.

It's conventional wisdom that a presidential running mate doesn't matter much in the long run. Many times, that's right. But other times it matters decisively: President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. President Johnson passed landmark civil rights laws and expanded the Vietnam War.

Barack Obama's choice of Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as a running mate was a solid, savvy choice and one that may – or may not – make a difference in November.

Although political devotees love to analyze whether one candidate or another will sway indecisive voters, to most people it's the top of the ticket that matters. What voters look for in a running mate is someone they trust could serve as president. They don't want a dumbbell, a crook or skeletons popping out of any closet.

Remember Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned in 1973 under investigation for bribery and tax fraud? Thomas Eagleton was booted off George McGovern's ticket in 1972 when it was learned he'd had shock treatment for depression. No one wants a rerun of those events.

Biden, 65, has been in the Senate 36 years and twice ran for president. He brings extensive Washington expertise to the ticket, a reputation as a tough political scrapper, and has already faced scrutiny as a presidential candidate. It was during his 1988 presidential run that he was castigated as a plagiarist after he gave a speech that sounded similar to one given by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.

As any candidate would, Sen. Biden brings political plusses and minuses. He adds foreign affairs experience, yet some might question whether a long-time Washington insider is the right choice for a campaign focusing on change.

Will die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters be mollified? Those still unenthusiastic about Sen. Obama aren't likely to be excited by Sen. Biden, who chaired the Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings and who, critics said, wasn't quick to pick up on her allegations of sexual harassment.

Joe Biden is a former stutterer with a reputation now for not being able to keep his mouth closed. That could make for a more interesting campaign. Whether he'll make the difference between victory and defeat for Barack Obama is something that no one, at this stage of the campaign, can say with any certitude.