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Biden’s sharp words mark a new phase in campaign
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Make no mistake, the presidential campaign is well under way for the Democrats as well as the Republicans. Vice President Joe Biden called out Mitt Romney and other GOP rivals as being “dead wrong” about the auto bailout, a feisty ramping-up by President Barack Obama’s top political surrogate even as the Republicans battle each other through the primaries.
Biden’s sharply worded attack marked a new offensive by Obama’s re-election team as it seeks to set the terms for the general election while Romney and his GOP rivals are still mired in their party’s nominating process.
In keeping with tradition, Biden, as No. 2 on the ticket, will be the campaign enforcer, leveling targeted attacks on Republicans. And his speech before a boisterous, 500-person crowd at a United Auto Workers hall in politically crucial Ohio suggested it’s a role he plans to fully embrace.
“Gingrich and Romney and Santorum, they don’t let the facts get in the way,” he added. It was notable that Biden criticized the Republicans by name. He and Obama have generally refrained from doing that, aiming their criticism more generally at Republicans or opponents.
Romney held fundraisers in New York, restocking his campaign ahead of caucuses Saturday in Missouri, where Rick Santorum and Romney have both invested substantial time. Puerto Rico is holding its primary on Sunday, drawing rare attention in the lengthy primary battle.
In San Juan, Santorum tried to extricate himself from a flap he caused by saying that making English an official language should be a “condition” of statehood for Puerto Rico and that the island would need to ensure that English is spoken “universally.” It’s set to hold a referendum on statehood in November and whether it becomes the 51st state is a critical issue there.
“I never said only English should be spoken here. Never did I even intimate that,” Santorum told local reporters in El Capitolio, the island’s Capitol building. “What I said was that English had to be spoken as well as other — obviously Spanish is going to be spoken, this would be a bilingual country.”
Gingrich, meanwhile, sought to build support in Illinois, which holds its primary next week. The former House speaker said he expected voters to give him another look once they grow tired of an advertising war between Santorum and Romney.
“I believe we need a visionary leader who is prepared to break out of politics as normal,” Gingrich said in the chapel of Judson University in suburban Chicago.
Republicans fired back at Biden. Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said his speech was irrelevant to the needs of family budgets “being stretched by everything from food prices to soaring prices at the pump.”
The vice president’s speech was the first of four events the Obama campaign has planned for Biden in the coming weeks. His task, campaign officials said, is to define the core issues of the campaign and draw a clear contrast between the president and the Republican contenders.
In Ohio, Biden’s focus was squarely on the auto bailout, a policy the Obama team sees as emblematic of the differences between Obama and Romney’s visions for the middle class. The vice president repeatedly singled out Romney, a Michigan native, for saying the government should let the auto industry go bankrupt.
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