It's almost hard to believe there's a single stone of veep-related speculation yet to be unturned and over-examined, but here's one: If Delaware Sen. Joe Biden becomes Barack Obama's running mate, we can expect another cycle of news analysis regarding the impact of race on the presidential campaign.
Of course, on Tuesday afternoon Biden told reporters "I'm not the guy." (LATE UPDATE: A source close to Biden tells the Huffington Post that this has been Biden's stock answer for weeks, and as such is not terribly significant.) But if you believe our own well-connected Steve Clemons, the Delaware Senator may have the cover of plausible deniability, since he's been radio silent with the Obama campaign in recent days.
So, with all the usual caveats, here's how Biden's potential selection could affect the sometimes dormant, sometimes live-wire issue of race in the campaign.
In part, this reality stems from the fact that Biden hasn't always struck the most sensitive tone when it comes to talking about race. Referencing the Indian-Americans he'd met in his home state of Delaware, Biden once said "you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent." While the Senator clearly meant to praise the hard work and entrepreneurship of his state's fastest growing minority group -- and was even speaking to an Indian-American supporter at the time -- his comments were nevertheless fodder for embarrassment.
More famously, and even more damaging, Biden kicked off his presidential campaign in early 2007 by describing Barack Obama in highly inelegant, loaded racial terms. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden told the New York Observer. "I mean, that's a storybook, man."
Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama both endeavored to let Biden off the hook, but the damage to Biden's campaign was still palpable.
Given this history, there are several possible ways that Biden-as-VP nominee could reignite the debate between the campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain over race. First, McCain could declare any further parsing of racial subtext in the campaign to be null and void, given Biden's own checkered linguistic past. If Obama were to tread at all close to his talking points warning of racially-charged remarks from Republicans, McCain could attempt to label the Democratic ticket as hypocritical on the subject.
Notre Dame Professor of Political Science Darren Davis believes that Biden's selection as a running mate would bring an unneccessary amount of scrutiny to a topic Obama should actively be trying to avoid. "Obama needs to stay away from issues of race as much as he can, and although he brushed off Biden's comments early in the primaries, he cannot be seen as embracing a VP whom many thought was racist and insensitive toward Obama himself. ... Imagine how much fun the Republicans would have with that," Davis said.
However, it's easy to imagine a somewhat counter-intuitive angle on the Biden-race angle. With many white voters potentially uncomfortable with the strictures of politically correct verbiage, Biden could stand out as a sympathetic figure. As Obama's running mate, he could say, "I know how tough this is to navigate sometimes, and I'm living proof that folks with the best intentions trip wires they don't mean to trip from time to time." Having consolidated his standing as someone who has earned a few scars in the PC-wars, Biden could speak out against any GOP gambits that explicitly attempt to capitalize on vague feelings of "foreign-ness" regarding Obama -- such as McCain's "an American president for America" tag. Speaking as someone who knows the difference between innocent slips and the real deal, he could conceivably have some standing on the issue.
Davis disagreed with that hypothesis, saying that Biden's checkered PC past "would not endear whites to Obama, but it would raise questions about Obama's decision making."
But either way, if Steve Clemons is right about Biden being the pick, it's not hard to see how that could spark some new lines of debate on the race question.