Springfield, Ill. — Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., today made their first public appearance since Obama announced Biden as his running mate.
Obama made the announcement through a text message to supporters at about 3 a.m. Saturday. Many supporters who signed up to for the text message reported never receiving it.
On the steps of the Illinois state capitol where he announced his candidacy for president in February 2007, Obama introduced Biden to a crowd of more than 30,000 people, calling him “one of the finest public servants of our time.”
Obama praised Biden’s work to promote women’s rights, affordable college tuition and raising the minimum wage, and highlighted his background in foreign policy.
In his first speech as the presumptive Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Biden, who has 35 years of experience in Congress, called presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain a friend and a great legislator, but said he doesn’t believe McCain is qualified to lead the nation.
“These times require more than a good soldier. They require a wise leader,” he said. “You can’t change America when you support Bush’s policies 95 percent of the time.”
McCain’s campaign has released an advertisement criticizing Biden for past remarks that seemed to express opposition to Obama and support for McCain.
But Obama said Biden’s willingness to speak his mind makes him a good running mate.
“I know that Joe Biden will give us some real straight talk,” he said. “He’s still that scrappy kid from Scranton (Penn.), who beat the odds.”
Sweltering heat did not deter tens of thousands of supporters from coming to see the appearance, but paramedics responded to many heat-related injuries within the crowd.
Following the rally, firefighters opened street hydrants, passed out bottled water and allowed water to spray from their fire trucks to offer relief.
Immediately following the event, officials could not confirm how many people received medical attention.
Springfield resident Lee Winkler, 58, said Obama’s visit transformed the usually dull town.
“There wouldn’t be much going on down here this afternoon if it weren’t for this,” he said with a laugh. “It’s pretty quiet, pretty conservative.”
Many crowd members admitted they didn’t know much about Biden. Those who were familiar with him said he could fill some apparent gaps in Obama’s political resume.
“He’s my dream vice president,” said Colin Davis, a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “He really balances out Sen. Obama as far as, he’s got the foreign policy experience that I think Sen.
Obama really needs to have.”
Theresa Schwarzhoff, a political science graduate student at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., said Biden also offers the political experience Obama lacks.
“It brings more to the table,” she said. “Obama is still really young and all the talk about him being inexperienced, I think Biden will help that.”
But Obama assured the crowd that strategy had little to do with his decision.
“Above all, I searched for a leader who’s ready to step in and be president,” he said.
But to Winkler, who said he is a firm Obama supporter, the vice presidential pick is irrelevant.
“He would have had to pick a devil before I wouldn’t have supported him,” he said.