Democrats in the chattering class smack their foreheads when the words of vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. earn the “gaffe” label, as they do often.
But for every Biden moment that might make Sen. Barack Obama cringe - observing that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is “good-looking,” blasting his own campaign ad as “terrible” and suggesting the rich paying higher taxes is “patriotic” - voters are warming to the Delaware senator.
“He says what he thinks. It shows he’s one of us,” said Carol Babb, an interior designer from Woodbridge, Va., who lost her job and supports the Democratic ticket.
“His frankness is very much connected to reality,” said Mike Vandiver, a retired minister from Anderson, S.C.
Mr. Biden’s reputation for candor and verbosity have earned him more scrutiny than the other candidates and underscores the importance of his preparation for his single debate with Mrs. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee.
His errors are magnified by Republicans who exploit his reputation for having loose lips, but Mr. Biden’s steady presence in swing states from Virginia to Wisconsin maximizes the Democratic ticket’s presence in those states.
He raised some eyebrows in Ohio in August, telling voters they had to make sure “there’s no overtimes,” referring to a close race.
“We ain’t counting on any recounts. We ain’t counting on any overtimes,” he said. “Until Barack Obama puts some real people on the Supreme Court, we can’t count on this being fair.”
In Woodbridge recently, Mr. Biden told voters that Republican nominee Sen. John McCain is “profoundly out of touch” after his off-message comments on the Obama campaign’s McCain attack ad earned a Drudge Report banner. Soon after calling it “terrible,” he issued a statement couching his comment by saying he hadn’t actually seen the ad and adding Team McCain has no right to criticize because it is running a negative campaign.
Republicans are preparing for any Biden exaggerations during the debate and jumped on his dramatization of a snowstorm that forced his helicopter in Afghanistan to land suddenly. The party also has created a “gaffe timeline” aides send to reporters to make sure no error is left unreported.
Mrs. Palin has had her share of errors on the campaign trail - from misstating her location as Grand Rapids, which is in Michigan, when she was actually in Cedar Rapids, which is in Iowa, to struggling to detail reforms Mr. McCain has brought to Washington, to referring to the potential 2009 White House as the “Palin and McCain administration.”
The conventional wisdom when Mr. Obama chose Mr. Biden was that it was an attempt to shore up a foreign-policy weakness on the ticket, but Mr. Biden has almost exclusively focused on the economy while undertaking a heavy campaign schedule. He’s been in so many states for rallies, town halls and fundraisers, that he had to hand over most hearings of his Foreign Relations Committee to colleagues.
He also has served as a reliable attack dog, simultaneously calling Mr. McCain his longtime “friend” while saying “his economic philosophy is as bankrupt as Lehman Brothers.”
Virginia voters cheered loudly as he repeated “We will end this war” while pounding on his podium.
For all the excitement - and good local press he generates in swing states - some Democrats are getting heartburn.
For example, when Mr. Biden gave ABC a standard Democratic line about higher taxes for the rich, the comment exploded into a full political scandal.
He said people making more than $250,000 per year “are going to pay more” and should realize: “It’s time to be patriotic, time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut.”
Republicans used the Biden comments in an Internet-only attack ad suggesting electing Democrats would mean: “Lots more taxes, lots more patriots.”
The ad doesn’t mention Mr. McCain initially opposed the Bush tax cuts.
Both sides are setting low expectations for Thursday’s Biden-Palin debate in St. Louis.
Mrs. Palin talks up her rival as someone with decades of experience. Both are hunkered down in preparation for the big event.
On the trail, Mr. Biden keeps his stump speech focused on the economy. He holds multiple events each day in the most economically hurt swing states, telling voters that Mr. Obama is like all of them and stressing the Democrats will fight for the working class.
He seems to be having the time of his life, meeting the Pittsburgh Steelers coach and getting to tour the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“You know as a kid you have all kinds of dreams - I dreamed that someday I’d get here to the Hall of Fame,” he said after the tour. “Like a lot of kids who played ball and thought they were pretty good, I was hoping to be doing this as an inductee.”
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