Vice President Joe Biden highlighted two major tests of his boss’s first term -- the killing of al-Qaeda’s founder and the bailout of the U.S. auto industry -- to argue President Barack Obama made “gutsy” choices that Republican Mitt Romney would not.
“He never wavers, he steps up,” Biden said in his 38-minute address last night to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, before Obama’s formal acceptance of his party’s nomination to a second term.
Reprising one of his popular lines from the campaign trail, Biden summed up the meaning of those two decisions: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
In a message aimed at working-class voters and labor unions worried about jobs being shipped overseas, Biden also framed the contest between Obama and Romney as a choice between protecting U.S. workers or global corporate interests.
With polls showing the race close between Obama and Romney, the president is trying to convince voters that he’s their best bet for protecting the interests of the middle class.
He looked to Biden to reassure and energize the voting blocs the 69-year-old former senator from Delaware has been most effective at courting over the last four years: non-college educated whites, union members, Catholics, Jews and Midwesterners.
“President Obama knows that creating jobs in America, keeping jobs in America, and bringing jobs back to America is what being president is all about,” Biden said. He said that, in Romney’s view, “it doesn’t much matter where American companies put their money or where they create jobs.”
Payrolls rose less than projected in August and the unemployment rate declined as more Americans left the labor force, indicating the U.S. labor market is stagnating. The figures were released today, two months before the presidential election. Employment and the economy are central campaign themes.
The economy added 96,000 workers last month following a revised 141,000 rise in July that was smaller than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of 92 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a gain of 130,000. Unemployment fell to 8.1 percent and hourly earnings were unchanged.
Romney and his vice presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have a “vastly different vision and a vastly different value set,” Biden said. He also coined two terms -- “the Bain way” and “Vouchercare” -- likely to reappear on the campaign trail as shorthand critiques of Romney’s approach to business and Medicare overhaul.
Biden recalled Romney’s comment in 2007 that it was “not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person” as well as Romney’s early opposition to the auto bailout.
“He saw it the Bain way,” Biden said, a reference to Romney’s former private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC. Biden said the Bain way was through the lens of “balance sheets and write-offs.”
Biden said Obama considered each response to the economic crisis that consumed much of his first term, knowing that “one false move could bring a run on the bank or a credit collapse” or cost millions of jobs. Obama, he said, has “a steady hand with the judgment and vision to see us through.”
The Romney campaign, in response, said Biden had promised middle-class families at the 2008 convention that better days were ahead.
“Four years later, it’s clear voters aren’t better off,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement.
Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said the high regard that Biden has for Obama can’t be faked and came through in the speech, which he said hit its mark.
“What the vice president was attempting to do, he accomplished, and that was to show the American people that Barack Obama was tested by crisis and the way he reacts to the sternest of challenges with strength, with conviction and with an intelligent approach to problem solving,” Rendell said in an interview from the delegation section of Pennsylvania, Biden’s native state.
Biden’s speech gave Americans “a little more insight into the man Barack Obama really is,” said Julie Meyers, 56, a pediatrician and delegate from Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
The vice president had been overshadowed at the convention by former President Bill Clinton, whose speech a night earlier was a forceful rebuttal of Republican criticisms of the president.
Still, Biden has been Obama’s point man on ending the Iraq war, overseeing stimulus spending and debt negotiations with congressional Republicans. Last night, he recounted sitting in the White House Situation Room as the president decided to go forward with the raid that killed bin Laden.
“His response was decisive,” Biden said. “He said do it.”
Biden has headlined more than 100 political events as the president seeks to win battleground states, and today will campaign alongside Obama in New Hampshire and Iowa before splitting off for Ohio.
An effusive and outgoing man, Biden also is known for using an expletive -- caught on microphone -- to describe how big a deal the president’s health-care expansion was and for recently telling a racially mixed audience that Romney’s policies toward Wall Street would put them back “in chains.”
Obama had to speed the timing of his announcement that he supports gay marriage after Biden unexpectedly expressed his own support.
The vice president offered a contrast to Ryan, 42, chairman of the House Budget Committee, who has proposed transforming the Medicare health coverage system into one of set contributions -- or vouchers -- for future seniors in place of the current benefits system.
Ryan, in an Aug. 29 address to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, said Democrats under Obama have “run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. Fear and division is all they’ve got left.”
Both Biden and Ryan are playing the part of attack dog on the campaign trail. They’re also seen as possible presidential candidates four years from now, although Biden already has twice run unsuccessfully and will turn 74 in 2016.
From now through November, Biden and Ryan each will spend much of their time competing for white, non-college-educated voters in states like Ohio, Iowa, Florida and Wisconsin.
Ruy Teixeira, a political demographer affiliated with the Center for American Progress, a Washington group typically aligned with Democrats, said Biden’s gaffes have distracted from his effectiveness on the campaign trail.
“He is probably a net positive, maybe not a huge positive,” Teixeira said. “Vice presidents, in the end, don’t really matter that much.” Still, he said, Romney needs to worry about anyone undercutting his support among white, non-college educated voters given the nation’s changing demographic profile.