DENVER – Eastern Shore delegates welcomed a familiar face to the Democratic presidential ticket Wednesday when Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware accepted the nomination for vice president.
The conventional wisdom around the country, and in other parts of Maryland, is that Biden is a safe bet who might quell concerns about Obama’s foreign policy experience and appeal to working class voters.
But for Marylanders who share the Delmarva peninsula with the state Biden has represented since 1973, when he was sworn in at the age of 29, the nominee brings to the table an expertise on the region’s issues and the added appeal of a “local” in this rural, insular corner of the state.
“It’s a very interesting pick because we all do feel that we know Sen. Biden quite well,” said Mayor Barrie Tilghman, of Salisbury, a city long exposed to Biden by the local television stations it shares with Delaware. “There’s no question that there’s a very close relationship. There’s really a symbiotic relationship.”
Issues like employment, industry, farming, it’s impact on the environment, and the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, do not stop at the political line between Maryland and Delaware, Eastern Shore delegates and guests said at the Democratic National Convention this week.
“Biden will bring a very different perspective than a bigger state person,” said Vita Pickrum, of Kent County Women for Obama. “I think he will have a different appreciation for issues that impact smaller states and counties.”
For Eastern Shore voters, Biden’s long familiarity with local issues and to local voters is reassuring. And as the state’s make-up changes, with wealthier, older residents moving in and driving up the cost of real estate, some of those issues are becoming more pressing, Shore residents say.
“Black and Decker moved out. The farmers are hurting. A lot of jobs have moved,” said Mooneye Jackson, Easton’s first African-American councilwoman. “It’s very difficult for the people to sustain themselves,” particularly in counties like Talbot, where the cost of living and housing has outpaced growth in wages.
These working class issues earned Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York strong support in the primaries this spring. She managed a 755-vote victory in Maryland’s 1st Congressional district, but lost statewide by a 25 percentage-point margin.
By adding Biden to the ticket, Obama may gain support from more working class, conservative Democrats who favored Clinton in the primaries and are skeptical of his candidacy, Eastern Shore political observers say. “Biden’s going to get a lot of the old, loyal Democrats who say, `here’s a working class guy we can relate to,'” said Ryan Ewing, of Easton, a field organizer for the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
Biden’s appeal may comfort some voters, but the reality is that Maryland will be a safe Democratic state in November.
“I think Biden will be helpful because he is perceived as a local,” said Tilghman, the Salisbury mayor. “It will shore up the support that it gives for Sen. Obama,” she added, but, “I don’t think it will make a major difference.”
But Democrats in Maryland’s Delmarva Peninsula are hoping to make local political gains as well, and some party leaders speculate that their voters, energized by enthusiasm for an Obama-Biden ticket, will turn out in force on election day. Statewide, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, won Maryland by a 13 percentage-point margin, but lost to President Bush in most Eastern Shore counties by 20 points or more.
The 1st Congressional district has had a Republican in Congress since Rep. Wayne Gilchrest won the seat in 1991. Since Gilchrest lost the primary to Andy Harris, Democrats believe they have a candidate with a chance to flip the district in Frank Kratovil, the state’s attorney for Queen Anne’s County.
If the presidential election draws more Democratic voters, either because of excitement over Obama or familiarity with Biden, Kratovil may have a chance to make up his current deficit in the polls. But Kratovil’s campaign isn’t sure Biden will help them this fall.
“He’s obviously someone who’s well respected across the Delmarva area,” said Tim McCann, Kratovil’s campaign manager, but he added, “we don’t expect it to have a huge impact on the race.”
But as their way of life continues to change, others feel Biden understands their concerns and shares their values. Famous for his daily Amtrak commute from Wilmington, Del., to Washington, Biden impresses Eastern Shore residents with his decision to live on the Delmarva Peninsula, despite being a life-long politician with a voice on the world stage.
“I think that it will be a selling point, because the state and his residence of choice,” said Pickrum, the Obama supporter from Kent County. “It shows he has an appreciation for the way of life that we choose.”