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Associated Press
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware is Barack Obama's pick as vice presidential running mate, The Associated Press has learned.

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama told everyone he wanted a running mate who will challenge his thinking, and now he's got one. Joe Biden's tendency to speak his own mind — and speak and speak — is entwined in his DNA.

The loquacious Delaware senator brings more than verbiage to Obama's side. Biden is a foreign policy heavyweight with a decade longer in the Senate than the seasoned Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. That's almost three more decades of experience than his new boss.

Obama selected Biden of Delaware late Friday night to be his vice presidential running mate, according to a Democratic official, balancing his ticket with the older congressional veteran well-versed in foreign and defense issues.

Biden, who has twice sought the White House, is a Catholic with a generally liberal voting record.

Across more than 30 years in the Senate, he has served at various times not only as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, but also as head of the Judiciary Committee, with its jurisdiction over anti-crime legislation and Constitutional issues.

The official who spoke did so on condition of anonymity, preferring not to pre-empt a text-message announcement the Obama campaign promised for this morning.

Obama's campaign arranged a debut for the newly minted ticket today outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.

In Washington, Biden, 65, is known as a collegial figure even when he's competitive — one who can spin flowery praise one moment and biting fulmination the next.

His second presidential campaign faltered early on.

Biden is one of the most influential foreign policy voices in Congress. An internationalist and strong supporter of the United Nations, he is a leading critic of what he sees as the vague, unilateralist approach of President Bush.

Biden voted in 2002 to authorize the Iraq invasion, which Obama opposed from the start. Since then, he's become a firm critic of the conflict and pushed through a resolution last year declaring that Bush's troop increase — now considered a military success — was "not in the national interest."

Obama jumped in to defend him on another occasion when he was asked if he had a problem with minorities.

The question was rooted in Biden's occasional gaffes. He had apologized earlier for describing Obama as "articulate" and "clean" in one unguarded episode that was taken by some to have a racial overtone. And he'd had to defend his remark that "you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."

Biden confronted tragedy five weeks after his first election. In 1972, his first wife, Neilia, and 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed when a tractor-trailer broad-sided her station wagon as she drove home with a family Christmas tree. His sons Beau and Hunt were badly hurt.

He was sworn in from the hospital bedside of one his sons and still won't work on Dec. 18, the date of the accident.

In 1977, Biden married Jill Tracy Jacobs. They have a daughter, Ashley. Both of his sons are lawyers, and the elder son, Beau, was elected state attorney general of Delaware in November.

Biden himself had a close brush with death in February 1988, when he was hospitalized for two brain aneurysms. It was seven months before he could return to the Senate.