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The Guy Who Never Retreats
Back at Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago, they can't get enough of it: Biden out on the road, touring the redder parts of purple states with that old-time Democratic religion. Barack Obama lost non-college-educated whites by 18 points in 2008, 58% to 40%, which was bad but also on par with what Democratic candidates John Kerry and Al Gore had done before him. This year, the early polls are starting worse, and if Romney can escape the caricature of the guy who likes "being able to fire people," Obama could fall further behind. The last ABC News/Washington Post poll has Obama at 34% with non-college-educated white men. A third.
So Biden keeps returning to places like Toledo, Ohio; Davenport, Iowa; and Coconut Creek, Fla.--hubs of what he still calls "the ethnic vote," which are the Irish, Italians and Polish Catholics and the South Florida Jews. He hits the barbecue joints, hams it up at the pasta houses and works the union halls: 67 campaign rallies and fundraising events so far this cycle. Obama's political guru David Axelrod offers Biden his highest praise. "He's been a national figure for more than four decades, but he hasn't lost that common touch," Axelrod says. "He'd be a great alderman."
In truth, there is no one else left doing what Biden does these days: offering himself up, reaching out, sharing the pain like that. Neither Romney nor Obama has this pastoral gene. The President can connect, but he goes the route of the inspiring movement leader, not the hearty pol. No one ever accused him of needing to win every room. Romney's comfort zone lies somewhere between the boardroom and the Fourth of July parade. He hits Obama for failing the country and then recounts the lyrics of his favorite patriotic songs. "If you count corn as an amber wave of grain, why, you have them right here," Romney used to say awkwardly in Iowa.
Biden can make both men look like retail amateurs. He speaks a tribal tongue of neighborhood pride, of us vs. them, of Mom and Dad, God rest their souls, the rich and the rest. Tip O'Neill had a saying: "All politics is local." Biden prefers the municipal analog, "All politics is personal." "In my neighborhood, where I come from, where these folks come from, everybody knows they've got to chip in," he says at the lunch counter at Hog Father's Old Fashioned BBQ outside Pittsburgh. "What they don't like is turning around and finding they are being played for a sucker."
That's Biden without the teleprompter, subtly digging at the Republicans. His written remarks hit much harder. He crafts them in weekly phone calls with the top Chicago brass--Stephanie Cutter, Jim Messina and Axelrod. Then he talks the message through with his own staff, telling them it's got to be more personal, more from the heart. It's not about a job; it's about pride. It's not about layoffs; it's about dignity. He is an "oral" guy, they all say, which means he doesn't write anything down. Don't bring me anything your mother wouldn't understand, he says. "He puts it in Bidenese," explains Cutter.