WHITE HOUSE — As the U.S. presidential campaign moves into its final months, Vice President Joe Biden is assuming a prominent role in working for President Barack Obama’s reelection. The president is relying on his vice president to deepen their appeal to a very important group of voters.
Many political analysts agree that persistent high unemployment and a stagnant economic recovery will make it more difficult for President Obama to win reelection in November.
To counter the economic challenges, the Obama campaign is concentrating on its appeal to middle-class and working-class voters, many of whom traditionally are some of the Democratic Party’s strongest backers.
To do so, Obama is emphasizing his plan to cut taxes for the middle class. And he has called on Biden to attack Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney’s plan to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes for businesses.
“And most of all, ladies and gentlemen, what is new, what is new about their plan? It is not only not new; it is not fair. It is not right, and the people who pay the price for their new plan are the middle class and the working poor,” said Biden.
Joel Goldstein, a law professor at Saint Louis University, has written extensively about the U.S. vice presidency. He said Obama has often struggled to connect with working-class Democrats, even during his 2008 primary election campaign against then-Senator Hillary Clinton.
Goldstein said Biden has done a better job of appealing to the middle class.
“Part of the vice president’s assignment, really, is to connect to, sort of, working-class, middle-class Democratic voters who, in 2008, tended to support then-Senator Clinton more than Senator Obama, and who the president still has had some trouble connecting with,” said Goldstein.
Democratic officials often underscore Biden’s working-class origins. He was born in the eastern industrial city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where his father sometimes struggled to find work.
When Joe Biden was 10-years-old, his father moved the family to Wilmington, Delaware, where their circumstances were described as middle-class.
Goldstein said Democrats believe that background gives Biden added credibility with working-class voters.
“Vice President Biden, because of his association with Scranton, Pennsylvania, his more modest background, and just his style, I think, has been very effective in the past in connecting with that important Democratic constituency,” said Goldstein.
Part of Biden’s appeal, analysts say, is his ability to empathize with families in difficult economic situations, as he did in Tuesday’s campaign speech in the Midwestern city of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“You know, I talk about ‘the longest walk.’ You have heard me say that," said Biden. "The longest walk a parent can make is up a short flight of stairs, to their child’s bedroom, to say, ‘Honey, I am sorry you cannot go back to sing in the choir next year. You cannot play on that Little League team. Daddy, Mommy, we lost our jobs. The bank says we cannot live here any more.’ You know, you know people who have made that walk.”
But analysts point out that Biden’s populist charm comes at a price. He is known for departing from his prepared remarks, sometimes with unintended results.
At a campaign stop in Virginia last week, the vice president, in criticizing Mitt Romney's economic policies, made a reference to slavery that some African Americans and many others found offensive.
“He is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, [and] unchain Wall Street. They are going to put you all back in chains,” said Biden.
Mitt Romney was quick to respond.
“Another outrageous charge just came a few hours ago in Virginia, and the White House sinks a little bit lower,” said Romney.
Later that day, Biden clarified that he had meant to say “shackles,” a reference to Romney’s promise to “unshackle” the economy, rather than “chains.”
Analyst Goldstein said Biden’s gaffe was a short-term distraction from the message the Obama campaign is trying to convey.
“To the extent that it did any damage, it was that it took the focus away from the effort that the Obama campaign was engaged in - of identifying [former Massachusetts] Governor Romney with the [his vice presidential running mate, Wisconsin Representative Paul] Ryan plan and its controversial aspects,” said Goldstein.
Still, the Obama campaign sees the vice president as a strong asset in reaching out to working-class voters, and Biden continues to campaign at factories, schools and country stores across the United States.