By CHARLES HURT Washington Bureau Chief
WATCH YOUR MOUTH: Joe Biden is known for his sharp tongue, but he's also prone to major gaffes. here to comment
DENVER - Joe Biden is one of the mouthiest politicians in all of Washington, but that's precisely why he may be the perfect pick as Barack Obama's vice president.
His ability to steal center stage during any hearing has made him unrivaled for grating on fellow lawmakers' nerves.
He makes his point - often two or three times - quite bluntly, but always colorfully and memorably. And it's usually Biden who makes the evening news and the next day's papers.
His refreshingly unguarded bluntness also has been the source of some of the worst headaches in his latest failed attempt at the Democratic nomination.
In just the last primary alone, Biden's wild mouth managed to run him afoul of Indians, 7-Eleven clerks and African-Americans.
"You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking," he said with a C-SPAN camera just inches from his unbridled mouth. (see cartoon above - yuk-yuk-yuk!)
Just a few months after apologizing his way out of that one, he "complimented" Obama and at the same time revealed a comically cliched and antiquated take on race in America.
"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," he enthused. "I mean, that's a storybook, man."
Obama's response to Biden's slur wasn't typical. It showed the class that has made him a transformational candidate capable of breaking through previously unbreakable barriers.
"He called me," Obama told reporters. "I told him it wasn't necessary. We have got more important things to worry about. We have got Iraq. We have got health care. We have got energy. This is low on the list."
To be sure, Obama called Biden out for disrespecting previous black candidates for the American presidency, but he didn't let it bog him down.
Obama saluted the previous campaigns of Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Mosely Braun and Al Sharpton, but he made clear that he has no interest in fighting those old battles that have defined race in America for so long.
In the primary against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama didn't fare well among white, working-class Democrats in crucial states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. She cleaned his clock in those areas.
But by picking Biden as his running mate even after his offensive comments, Obama offers to those very Democrats an olive branch. He tells those Democrats that he's more interested in fixing the problems that afflict them than he is in fighting old race battles.
In the same move, Obama also chooses a running mate who fills the Illinois senator's deep vacancies with regard to foreign policy and experience in dealing with Washington.
There also are obvious drawbacks to picking Biden.
The veteran Delaware senator detracts from the Obama ticket's image as an outside-the-Beltway agent of change. And he's very likely to draw deep criticism from Democratic voters who are against the war in Iraq above all else.
Biden voted for the war, but has since become a strident critic of it. There are those voters who will never forgive Biden for approving the war anymore than they would forgive President Bush or former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Also, Biden does not put on the table a state that Obama is in danger of losing in November. Delaware will almost certainly vote for the Democratic ticket either way.
And with Biden comes the very real risk that his loose lips around reporters will render all sorts of new gaffes and scandals in the coming months that will swamp the Obama campaign's message.
For Biden's part, he has in recent days promised that he will harness his mouth and not speak out of line.
But Biden also brings to the Obama ticket another valuable asset.
As a white-haired straight-shooter, he casts a strong balance to John McCain's long-held claim to run the only "straight-talk express" in Washington.
And in the process, he gives Obama considerable cover when the young freshman senator has to unleash harsh attacks on McCain.
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