Vice President Biden’s speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night reflects the role he has played in the administration: He’s always the last one in the room with President Obama and the one who can best portray the president's decision-making skills.
Aides say Obama wanted his vice president and two-time running mate to speak on Thursday night because he believes there’s no better advocate of his policies and no one who has seen him in the trenches quite like his sidekick.
“He is the president’s partner, No. 1 surrogate, and he has been in the rooms where big decisions have been made,” an Obama campaign aide said.
Biden “has seen a lot of the tough decisions the president has made up-close and he is a firsthand witness to the strength of character that he’s shown,” the aide added.
In recent months, the campaign has used Biden in the traditional attack-dog role, even deploying him last week to Tampa, Fla., as Republicans convened for the GOP convention.
As the presidential campaign heated up this spring, Biden also has appeared at approximately 100 political events and delivered five critical “framing” speeches laying out issues from Social Security and Medicare to foreign policy and tax fairness.
The vice president›s other mission this year: rallying party loyalists including the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza and labor groups.
“In many ways, he’s the perfect partner for Obama because he connects with the old liberal establishment, the unions, the activists,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a professor at Boston University who specializes in political communication. “That’s when Joe from Scranton does his best work.”
Aides say he will continue to play a large role in the final 60 days in must-win swing states like Ohio and Florida, while chipping away at his opponents’ platform.
“He’s very confident talking about Ryan in particular because he knows him,” one senior campaign aide said. “And he also has a good feel for what people respond to.”
Romney aides say Biden has only added to the level of divisiveness and vitriol in the presidential campaign.
“President Obama promised to create millions of jobs and change the tone in Washington, And whether it’s his handling of the wasteful stimulus or his divisive comments, Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren builds her brand with 2020 down the road AACR’s march on Washington Obama to attend Pittsburgh Steelers owner's funeral MORE is the perfect symbol for the president’s failed economic policies and broken promises,” said Brendan Buck, a Romney campaign spokesman.
The Obama campaign believes Biden’s folksiness and his everyman appeal will help tap into the small pool of independent middle-class voters both campaigns are seeking to win over in November.
Democratic strategists say Biden is someone who understands the challenges middle class Americans face because of his “Amtrak Joe” persona.
“Who doesn’t love Uncle Joe?” Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said, referring to the vice president’s role as the ultimate retail politician. “He always finds a way to connect to anyone. That’s one of his greatest strengths.”
Both Obama and Biden have sought to take on roles as middle-class warriors, contrasting their roots with GOP candidate Mitt Romney against the backdrop of a fierce tax debate.
“He can speak from the heart on these issues,” Thornell said. “There’s not much poll-tested in Joe Biden, and that’s refreshing. He shoots straight and says exactly what’s on his mind.”
But sometimes, speaking his mind can spark controversy — as was the case last month.
Speaking to a Virginia crowd including many African-Americans, Biden, in making a point about Wall Street reform, said Mitt Romney’s policies would “put y’all back in chains.”
“The more time the president and his campaign people have to explain Biden’s gaffes, the less time they have to explain their case for reelection,” Ken Lundberg, a Republican strategist, said. “As the gaffes increase, the vice president’s credibility decreases.
“At points all along the spectrum, it’s costing votes,” he added.
Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary at the Republican National Committee, agreed.
“Vice President Biden’s inevitably gaffe-filled speech will only serve to further highlight the contrast voters face between the Romney/Ryan ticket’s bold solutions for fixing our economy and an administration that has failed to live up to the promises they made to voters four years ago.”
But Democratic observers say Biden’s strengths far outweigh his weaknesses.
“Sometimes there are things you’d like to do over but I think overall, he’s a total positive,” Thornell said. “You can put him in an audience of working-class folks or African-Americans or Hispanics and he connects with all of them, and that’s not something a lot of politicians have.”