- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2011

A year from Election Day, Democrats are crafting a campaign strategy for Vice President Joseph R. Biden that targets the big three battlegrounds: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, states where Mr. Biden might be more of an asset to President Obama’s re-election campaign than the president himself.

The Biden plan underscores an uncomfortable reality for the Obama team. A shaky economy and sagging enthusiasm among Democrats could shrink the electoral map for Mr. Obama in 2012, forcing his campaign to depend on carrying the 67 electoral votes up for grabs in the three swing states.

Mr. Obama won all three states in 2008. But this time he faces challenges in each, particularly in Ohio and Florida, where voters elected Republican governors in the 2010 midterm elections.

The president sometimes struggles to connect with Ohio and Pennsylvania’s white working-class. Many Jews, who make up a core constituency for Florida Democrats, view him with skepticism.

Mr. Biden has built deep ties to both groups during his four decades in national politics, connections that could make a difference.

As a long-serving member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Biden cemented his reputation as an unyielding supporter of Israel, winning the respect of many in the Jewish community. And Mr. Biden’s upbringing in a working class, Catholic family from Scranton, Pa., gives him a valuable political intangible: He empathizes with the struggles of blue-collar Americans because his family lived those struggles.

“Talking to blue-collar voters is perhaps his greatest attribute,” said Dan Schnur, a Republican political analyst. “Obama provides the speeches, and Biden provides the blue-collar subtitles.”

While Mr. Biden’s campaign travel won’t kick into high gear until next year, he’s already been making stops in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida this fall, speaking at events focused on education, public safety and small businesses and raising campaign cash. Behind the scenes, he’s working the phones with prominent Jewish groups and Catholic organizations in those states, a Democratic official said.

Mr. Biden is also targeting organized labor. He spoke frequently with union leaders in Ohio ahead of a vote earlier this month on a state law that would have curbed collective bargaining rights for public workers. After voters struck down the measure, Mr. Biden traveled to Cleveland to celebrate the victory with union members.

The Democratic official said the vice president will also be a frequent visitor to Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks, seeking to steal some of the spotlight from the Republican presidential candidates blanketing those states ahead of the January caucus and primary.

And while Mr. Obama may have declared that he won’t be commenting on the Republican presidential field until there’s a nominee, Mr. Biden is following no such rules. He’s calling out Republican candidates by name, and in true Biden style, he appears to relish doing so.

During a speech last month to the Florida Democratic Convention, Mr. Biden singled out “Romney and Rick,” criticizing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for saying the government should let the foreclosure crisis hit rock bottom, and hammering Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s assertion that he would send U.S. troops into Mexico.

And he took on the full Republican field during an October fundraiser in New Hampshire, saying, “There is no fundamental difference among all the Republican candidates.”