Three weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 2, Vice-President Joe Biden's mission is almost impossible: convincing anxious voters that the $814 billion stimulus measure is working in states where Democrats are in danger of losing the most House and Senate seats.
As President Barack Obama's emissary to middle-class voters, Biden in the past month has visited 27 cities in 17 states, stumping for 24 Democratic candidates. Eleven of those stops were in working-class neighborhoods of Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Obama was defeated in the 2008 primaries and where Biden's middle-class roots—he grew up in Scranton, Pa.—may be an asset. "He's certainly got much more of a common touch than Obama does, there's no question about that," says Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. Still, Biden, 67, has "a colossal selling job," Baker says. "You're talking about mass merchandising at a time when the value of the product is uncertain."
Trumpeting that millions of jobs were created or saved by the stimulus is a tough sell, Biden concedes. "Less bad is never good enough," he said in an interview aboard Air Force Two on Oct. 8, the day Labor Dept. figures showed that in September the economy was shedding more jobs, with the unemployment rate remaining a stubbornly high 9.6 percent.
"It's awful hard to say it's working," Biden said at the end of a campaign swing through Wisconsin, Missouri, and Washington. Trying to sell voters on the idea that unemployment would have been even higher were it not for the stimulus is, Biden said, "like, 'Yeah, but if the dog hadn't stopped would it have caught the rabbit?' "
A 25-page report by Biden, released on Oct. 1, said the stimulus has created or preserved 3.3 million jobs and is on pace to create the intended 3.5 million jobs. The money was allocated quickly and with little fraud, according to the report. Despite that, many Democrats aren't running on Obama's accomplishments like health care, financial regulatory overhaul, and the stimulus because "it's just too hard to explain," Biden says.
A Bloomberg National Poll conducted on Oct. 7-10 showed that 52 percent of 721 likely voters surveyed said they believed the 2009 economic stimulus package will weaken the economy or make no difference. In addition, 44 percent of respondents said the stimulus will make the economy stronger. "People aren't blaming Obama for the fact there's a recession; they're blaming him for the fact that it's going on so long," says James Bennett, 39, an information-technology worker in Tacoma, Wash.
Republicans say the stimulus package didn't live up to Obama's billing. "The massive growth of the federal government didn't result in a similar growth of jobs," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in an Oct. 8 statement.
Biden, in the interview, called Republican criticism "phony" and said the September layoffs of 76,700 state and local government workers "shows how wrong they were" to limit assistance to states. More jobs would have been created if Republicans had approved an additional $150 billion that was originally in the stimulus legislation, he added.
The bottom line: Joe Biden has one of the hardest jobs in politics this year: selling his boss's economic stimulus package to voters.