Joe Biden's long road to the Democratic ticket got off to a bad start. When he launched his own bid for the White House last year, Biden's reputation for committing verbal gaffes was swiftly confirmed. Asked what he thought of a young black senator from Illinois who was also running for President, Biden said Barack Obama was 'the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy'.
The result was a firestorm of accusations of patronising racial insensitivity and Biden was forced into an immediate apology. Despite strong showings in the debates, Biden's presidential campaign fizzled out in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire.
But that was then. This is now. Biden is now joining Obama's ticket as his running mate. If the Democrats win in November, Biden will get to the White House after all, albeit as Vice-President.
There is one reason why Obama has chosen Biden: his experience. Obama's youth may be the reason tens of thousands flock to his rallies, but it is also his Achilles heel. 'Not ready to lead' is the mantra of Republican attack ads already swarming across the television screens of America. They follow on from the most effective tactics of Hillary Clinton's defeated campaign, when she painted Obama as too naive on foreign policy and unable to deal with international crises.
Biden is the answer to those accusations. The senator from the small state of Delaware has been on the national scene of American politics for more than three decades. His speciality is foreign policy. He has just returned from a trip to the war zones of Georgia, where he won plaudits for his efforts to support the beleaguered Georgian government. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he has travelled the world meeting foreign leaders, many of whom he counts as friends.
That kind of experience will be an asset. So will Biden's background. His family is Irish Catholic and his father, a car salesman, moved them from the poor town of Scranton to Delaware when Biden was just 10 years old. Ironically, Biden's early career showed many similarities to Obama's rise to power. Like Obama, Biden went to college and studied law. Like Obama, Biden was a precociously young politician. He won a seat in the Senate aged just 30, becoming the fifth-youngest senator in American history.
However, it was a moment marked by intense personal tragedy. Biden had met his first wife, Neilia Hunter, while at law school. They had three children together. But Hunter and their young daughter were killed in a car accident that also left his two sons seriously injured. Biden considered abandoning his career to care for his stricken family, but was persuaded to keep his seat. He was, in fact, sworn into office at the hospital bedside of one of his sons. Both boys recovered - one is shortly to serve a tour of duty in Iraq - and Biden eventually married again. He has had another daughter with his second wife, Jill Jacobs.
In his long political career Biden has carved out a path as a traditional Democrat, strong with unions and the labour movement. Indeed he has been on the national scene for such a long time that he first ran for the White House in 1988.
He brings others elements of balance to the Obama campaign, too, shoring up weaknesses that have only become apparent over the last two months of going head-to-head with Republican opponent John McCain. Born in 1942, Biden is reassuringly old for an American electorate that would perhaps have balked at another young politician on Obama's ticket. His style of campaigning is also in stark contrast to Obama's lofty rhetoric and slightly detached intellectual feel. Biden is known as a rough-house campaigner, full of punches and jokes. He is also a formidable debater, whereas Obama's debate performances have sometimes fallen flat.
Biden's emotional style and willingness to speak his mind have always made him popular with both core Democratic voters and the press. It is likely to help him appeal to parts of the electorate that Obama has been having trouble attracting. They include the blue-collar, working-class Democrats in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania who embraced Clinton but who have been lukewarm on Obama. Biden's straight talking and his background in Scranton, Pennsylvania, will do much to bring those voters home to Obama. Senior Democrats have flocked to praise the choice of Biden, including Hillary Clinton, whose supporters could claim she has been cruelly snubbed by Obama.
But there are pitfalls in Obama's choice. One of those has already been shown. Republican operatives, long suspecting Biden would be the man, travelled to TV studios early yesterday morning. They were clutching their latest attack ad, which was soon hitting the airwaves via the cable news shows. It took advantage of Biden's history of speaking too freely by featuring examples of his attacks on Obama and praise for McCain.
'There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden,' said McCain spokesman Ben Porritt. That summed up the main risk in choosing Biden. His tongue is notoriously loose and has left a long record. Aside from his gaffe at the start of his own presidential campaign, he has accused Obama of not being ready to be President. He also once said he was willing to run with McCain, not just against him. His jokes and comments can also stoke up fires of controversy that could distract the Obama campaign at key moments. In New Hampshire, while campaigning for votes in his own presidential campaign, Biden once remarked that 'you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent'. Such off-the-cuff asides are perfect fodder for the ravenous 24-hour news cycle of the modern presidential campaign. They could prove to be a dangerous source of distractions in the tough weeks ahead, especially as McCain's camp will pore over his every utterance. Another problem is that Biden does not bring a swing state with him, as Indiana's Senator Evan Bayh could have done. He is also a Washington insider, which could hurt Obama's claim that he wants to change the system. Finally, choosing a man - rather than Clinton or Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius - might aggravate women voters.
One safe bet is that Biden's speeches will be well prepared and heavily scrutinised. That first presidential campaign in 1988 was seen as a strong one, but it foundered over accusations that he had plagiarised a speech by British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock. Biden had usually credited Kinnock in his speech, but on one occasion when he did not he was caught on video. That triggered a series of other probes into Biden's background and he withdrew from the race saying 'the exaggerated shadow' of his mistakes had come to dominate coverage of his presidential bid.
But now Biden is back. Any career as long as his is going to have many peaks and troughs. But few would have predicted that the greatest peaks may yet still lie ahead. The Obama-Biden ticket has a strong chance to take the White House this November. If it does, as the old political maxim for running mates goes, Biden will be just a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Partners in power
Men behind the throne
Lyndon Johnson (1960-63)Running mate to John F Kennedy
The gregarious Texan helped the young Kennedy to win the South and fought to overcome suspicions that he wanted to overshadow the President. Johnson was a forceful advocate for civil rights and scientific research.
Dick Cheney (2001-08)Running mate to George W Bush
Cheney has been a model enforcer, keeping the neo-conservative troops in line and attacking the White House's political enemies with gusto.
Al Gore (1993-2001)Running mate to Bill Clinton
Gore broke the running-mate mould by mirroring Clinton rather than balancing him. Their chemistry energised the country and Gore promoted innovative environmental and technology policies.
Dan Quayle (1989-93)Running mate to George HW Bush
Quayle's propensity for gaffes became a national joke. He publicly misspelt 'potato' as 'potatoe'.
Spiro Agnew (1969-73)Running mate to Richard Nixon
Agnew gave Nixon an advantage in the South, but their relationship turned sour when he was charged with tax evasion and money laundering.
Hannibal Hamlin (1861-65)Running mate to Abraham Lincoln
Hamlin's radical Republicanism made life uncomfortable for Lincoln, who wanted to improve relations with the South. Lincoln ditched Hamlin in 1864 in favour of Andrew Johnson - who was later impeached.