Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Biden Dropping Out? Rumor Thrives on Internet

Sept. 24, 2008: Joe Biden addresses a campaign rally in Jeffersonville, Ind. (AP)

It’s almost certainly just a case of the telephone game gone high-tech, but there’s an Internet rumor surging through inboxes and discussion boards that Joe Biden will drop out as Barack Obama’s running mate after his Oct. 2 debate with Sarah Palin — and that he’ll be replaced by Hillary Clinton on the Democratic presidential ticket.

The story line goes as follows: John McCain’s selection of Palin has generated so much interest in the Republican ticket that Obama needs to make a radical move to regain momentum. So in the days after the vice presidential candidates debate in Missouri, Biden will bow out, citing “health problems” (Biden underwent surgery in 1988 to repair two brain aneurysms). Enter Clinton.

Furthermore, the story goes, any damage the gaffe-prone Biden does during the debate will be erased by his abrupt exit.

It sounds like a job for Fight the Smears, the Web site the Obama campaign set up to quash damaging Internet rumors. But Fight the Smears hasn’t touched this one, perhaps out of fear that it would only further a wild rumor. The Obama campaign has not commented on it, other than to say that Biden’s medical records will be released soon., a site devoted to picking apart online rumors and urban legends, has labeled the status of the claim “undetermined.” Several online discussion boards have been loaded up with denials.

Biden has caused a few hiccups for the Obama campaign. On Monday, he had to issue a clarification after he called one of his own campaign ads “terrible” in an interview with CBS News. He also faced a rebuke from Obama after he spoke out against the government bailout of American International Group last week before Obama was ready to take a position.

On Tuesday, he said that President Franklin Roosevelt had gone on television in 1929 to discuss the Wall Street crash (Herbert Hoover was president in 1929 and the TV hadn’t been invented yet).

At one point, he even said Hillary Clinton might have been a better pick for Obama’s No. 2.

The Republican National Committee has gleefully set up a Biden “gaffe clock” to monitor his rhetorical flubs on the campaign trail.

Nonetheless, Democratic supporters dismiss outright any speculation that he might be dropped from the ticket.

“It’s crazy. … It’s just not gonna happen,” Democratic strategist Bob Beckel said.

Dropping Biden from the ticket would be a throwback to George McGovern’s shocker in 1972, when he replaced running mate Thomas Eagleton after it was learned that Eagleton had undergone electro-shock therapy for depression.

McGovern lost to President Nixon in a landslide, suggesting that seventh-inning lineup changes are not the best strategy for presidential candidates who want to shake things up.

Speaking hypothetically, Beckel said that, if it were to happen, the Democratic National Committee could feasibly call a mini-convention of sorts to confirm a new running mate. He also said “it would be so disruptive” that it would make no sense for Obama to pursue such a change.

Deadlines have passed in some states to send absentee ballots to military personnel and civilian voters overseas — meaning they would have received a ballot already with Biden (and Palin) on their parties’ tickets.

“I doubt it,” said Christopher Hull, presidential scholar and adjunct government professor at Georgetown University, when told of the Biden rumor. “Joe Biden is not that big a liability. Joe Biden was arguably the most experienced candidate in the [Democratic primary] race.”

“Joe Biden, of course, has shot off his mouth and gotten himself in trouble,” he added. “It’s Joe Biden we’re talking about.”

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