Biden A Vital Surrogate For Obama On Campaign Trail

Vice President Joe Biden has been an important surrogate for President Obama this year, as he was four years ago. Biden especially excels at connecting with white, working-class voters — a group with which the president has struggled.

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Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for a second straight day in Iowa today. Biden is known for unscripted comments, and the crowds that gathered today seemed primed to hear him weigh in on the Mitt Romney's controversial remarks secretly recorded at a May fundraiser.

But NPR's Don Gonyea reports, Biden didn't touch the topic.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The vice president has always been the Obama campaign's go-to guy when it comes to reaching out to blue collar and working class voters. Biden rarely gets through a speech without mentioning his own roots. He's from the hard-scrabble city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. In the town of Ottumwa today, he spoke of changes to Medicare proposed by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan that Biden says would cost the average senior citizen thousands of dollars every year.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN SPEECH)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: So folks, that's a lot of money where I come from. That's a lot of money in Ottumwa, that's a lot of money in Claymont, Delaware.

GONYEA: The closest Biden came to directly responding to Romney in his speech was this, when he said under the Romney plan, middle class taxes will have to be raised to keep the deficit from getting worse if Romney refuses to allow any tax hikes on income more than $250,000 dollars a year.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN SPEECH)

BIDEN: And Romney calls the president out of touch? Out of touch? The guy with a Suiss bank account? A guy with tens of millions of dollars in the Grand Cayman islands? All legal, but out of touch? Ladies and gentlemen, I'll tell you what's out of touch. What's out of touch is what the governor and Congressman Ryan are proposing for the economy.

GONYEA: Afterward, when Biden was shaking hands along the rope line, a reporter asked for a comment on Romney's remarks. He said the GOP candidate's words speak for themselves and kept shaking hands. In reality, Biden's usual stump speech serves as a kind of response to the Romney tape. The theme is often stand up for the little guy or for the person who has played by the rules but needs a hand. Here's how retired union plumber Jim Sinclair put it in Ottumwa this morning.

JIM SINCLAIR: I'm just saying Joe Biden's one of us. I feel like he, what he says is the same thing that I've said for years and my family and what we think, you know, the people I work with. He just kind of connects to me, I guess.

GONYEA: At this same event, 60-year-old Constance Miller of Ottumwa, said Romney's remarks were the talk of the day for those who arrived early to see Biden speak.

CONSTANCE MILLER: You stand around for three hours, you make a few friends and we're all commenting about that, talking about that, about that bounce ad, how we thought that would make a difference to this election. I know, maybe I'm naive.

GONYEA: Still she says she'd have liked to have heard Biden have some fun with Romney's comments to make a political point. Instead, Miller, a retired science teacher, offered her own reaction.

MILLER: Oh, my gosh, we are the bottom feeders, the middle class people, you know, we teachers, librarians, social workers, those of us who have dedicated our lives to others. And I think that's what Romney, in my opinion, you know, he stuck his foot in his mouth.

GONYEA: Later on in a coffee shop in Oscaloosa, Biden again declined to weigh in on the topic. He smiled and waved reporters off and as one whose own off-the-cuff words have occasionally sparked days of cable TV debate, Biden seemed more than satisfied to not step on the attention Romney is now getting. Don Gonyea, NPR News, traveling with the Biden campaign.

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