Biden embraces role as warm alternative to Obama on campaign trail

Arriving 45 minutes late to an Omaha fundraiser benefiting a local congressional candidate, Vice President Biden told the waiting crowd the he was stuck on Air Force Two talking to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“I know you hear that excuse a lot,” Biden joked. “The old Mubarak excuse.”

Juggling his international policy portfolio while keeping a tight campaign schedule has become routine for Biden in recent months, routing him from electoral-battleground states to Baghdad.

While much has been made of President Obama's election-year troubles finding candidates and voters who would welcome him, Biden seems to go everywhere.

In recent weeks he's been to hard-hit Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and South Carolina — all places where the president's popularity is in deep decline.

Along the way, the loquacious vice president has bristled the backs of some Democrats, admonishing them to “stop whining” and warning the party could lose power if the election becomes a referendum on Obama.

“It's a choice, and the choice is absolutely stark,” Biden said Tuesday during a stop at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

Biden, a veteran campaigner and glad-hander who spent nearly 30 years in the Senate, seems to enjoy the trail — in contrast to Obama, who increasingly appears to find it a chore.

As he makes the rounds, Biden has been expressing empathy for continued unemployment and economic woes, laying heavy blame on Republicans and taking issue with the Tea Party movement.

“Folks, people are angry with good reason,” he said recently in California. “Through no fault of their own, over 8 million people essentially woke up to find out that they don't have jobs.”

Of Republicans, Biden said, “This is not your parents' Republican party. This is not the same breed of cat, man.”

Puzzling over the Tea Partiers, Biden said, “I'm not questioning their integrity, I'm questioning their judgment.”

In recent months, Biden has made several trips to California, helping embattled Sen. Barbara Boxer raise money in her race against Republican challenger Carly Fiorina.

“I love you, Joe,” Boxer told him at a recent event, as Biden stood beside her, smiling and chewing gum.

For many Democrats, Biden's gaffe-prone, lovable-goof routine is a welcome contrast to Obama, whose remote, professorial airs the administration is struggling to counter with backyard and family-style campaign events.

“Everybody kind of accuses Obama of being too cerebral … and lacking empathy,” said Chris Reardon, a University of New Hampshire political scientist and pollster.

The press has helped shape popular perceptions of Biden, Reardon said, especially as a refreshing antidote to the perceived intellectualism of the president.

“With Biden, the press is saying he is a little bit of an uncontrolled element and a relief to Obama, and a contrast, because Biden often comes from his heart rather than his head,” Reardon said.

Tony Shelton, a communications strategist at Vollmer Public Relations, said Biden “speaks his mind,” which is not always the case for politicians.

“It's part of his character,” Shelton said. “It's how people think of him.”

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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