- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2008

DUBLIN, Ohio | Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. is making his debut on the campaign trail this weekend with a populist roar and his signature say-anything style.

Mr. Biden has appealed to voters here and in Pennsylvania with a laser focus on the economy, keeping foreign-policy talk to a minimum despite his experience on the topic.

Appearing at Sen. Barack Obama’s side in two battleground states that Mr. Obama lost to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton during the primary season, Mr. Biden stresses that Mr. Obama comes from humble means, telling voters at each stop that like many of them, his running-mate’s mom struggled financially.

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Voters described Mr. Biden as “unafraid” and “sincere” as the Obama family and Biden family traveled the economically distressed region via bus.

“There’s never been a time since I’ve been around where so many people have been knocked down, and this government has paid so little attention to the fact that you’ve been knocked down,” Mr. Biden told voters at a town picnic-style evening event Friday in Beaver, Pa. “America is ready to get back up. And this is a man that’s going to get ‘em back up.”

At a rally Saturday at a high school football field here, the Delaware senator said his running mate will help everyday people.

“Barack Obama gets it,” Mr. Biden said after being introduced by former Sen. John Glenn, the astronaut. “This guy after college could have written his ticket to Wall Street … but instead he decided he was going to go to the streets of Chicago.”

In Pennsylvania the day before, the appeal was similar.

“I just want to tell you one thing straight up here,” Mr. Biden said in opening his stump. “I’m convinced to the core of my being that Barack Obama understands.”

Delaware’s senior senator said his running mate understands “not because he’s a smart senator, not because he has all this wisdom, which he does,” but because his single mother sometimes had “to go to food stamps to make it” and taught him, “that you can be anything you want to be in America if you work hard enough at it.”

After the loud and rousing Biden speech, Mr. Obama grinned and said, “I think you just figured out why I chose Joe Biden to be the next vice president of the United States.”

Mr. Biden recorded a personal appeal to his childhood hometown of Scranton, Pa., in his first solo campaign ad, which features photos of him as a child as he says he learned about hard work from his “grandpop” in Green Ridge.

“You know, Scranton’s a place that never leaves you. It becomes part of your heart,” he said. “Barack Obama learned the same lessons, while being raised by a single mom and his grandparents: responsibility, determination, respect.”

As an image of the ticket together appeared on the screen, Mr. Biden closed with: “It’s good to be coming home - and bringing home a friend.”

Before an enthusiastic crowd of 18,000, Mr. Biden turned on the color.

“When your mother’s last name is Finnegan, going to a town called Dublin, and you’re at the home of the Shamrocks and running with a guy named Obama, it really works,” he said.

He also paid broad compliments to the spouses of his comrades. On Michelle Obama, he said: “I’ll tell you man, I always liked Barack, but I love her.”

After being introduced by Mr. Glenn, he said he “fell in love with Annie Glenn” when he and Mr. Glenn served together in the Senate. Mr. Glenn, 87, retired from the Senate in January 1999.

Mr. Biden had plenty of praise for his own wife, telling a high school student she once was in the color guard while another voter agreed with his declaration that his wife Jill is “drop-dead gorgeous.”

At a diner in Boardman, Ohio, he told a voter that being on the ticket won’t be good for his golf handicap. He told everyone who would listen about his dream of being a pro football player and got a treat Friday when Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin greeted the Democratic ticket.

“Hey, coach, I’m Joe Biden. I’m second string,” he said.

At the Windmill Ice Cream Shop in Aliquippa, Pa., Mr. Biden quipped, “I ran for vice president just so I could get ice cream, that’s why I’m here,” before tackling a cone with two enormous scoops - one chocolate, one vanilla.

He was willing to talk about everything from using chicken fat for biofuel to hurricane preparedness.

So far he has displayed less awareness of the constant photo op and microphone, rubbing his eyes vigorously as photographers snapped pictures during a biofuel-plant tour and chatting away within earshot of the enormous traveling press corps.

During the bus tour, the men frequently showed affection for one another with back patting and hugging. Mr. Obama showered his running mate with praise each day.

“I’m absolutely convinced that Joe Biden is the right person to help move this country in the direction where working families have a shot,” he said.

The Democratic ticket will appear together in their first joint TV interview on “60 Minutes” Sunday. They split up Monday, and Mr. Biden will campaign in Pennsylvania. Mr. Obama will hold a Labor Day rally in Milwaukee that evening.

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