- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The middle class isn’t sharing in the economic gains since the Great Recession, and wealthy taxpayers should be paying more, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday.

Biden stopped in Portland to help Sen. Jeff Merkley with his bid for a second term, a must-win race for Democrats trying to maintain control of the Senate.

Economic growth has replaced the income that was lost during the recession, but the gains went primarily to taxpayers on the top, Biden said.

“I think we should make them start to pay their fair share. Take the burden off the middle class,” Biden told a crowd of several hundred supporters at the Oregon Convention Center.

Biden is on a West Coast swing to promote a minimum-wage hike and boost Democratic campaigns.

Helped by a surge of new voters turning out to support Barack Obama’s presidential bid, Merkley narrowly defeated a Republican incumbent in 2008 to win his seat. He is now the front-runner against Republican Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon from Portland.

Ballots go out next week and are due Nov. 4.

Merkley has played up his upbringing in a working-class family and portrays himself as a champion for the middle class.

“Jeff has never forgotten where he came from,” Biden said. “The thing I like about your guy is he’s a real guy.”

Wehby, running as a moderate on social issues and an expert on health care in a state with a troubled rollout of the federal health care law, looked for a time to pose a serious threat to Merkley’s re-election prospects. But a series of Wehby missteps, including allegations that she took her health care and economic plans from other Republicans, have helped Merkley solidify his standing.

Merkley has worked aggressively to link Wehby with national Republicans, who are unpopular in a state increasingly dominated by Democrats. The Koch brothers, businessmen who have given millions to Republicans, backed Wehby’s campaign for several weeks but have now pulled their ads off the air.

“Vice President Biden is the perfect pairing to Senator Merkley’s incoherent and very absent plan for solving Oregon’s economic woes,” Wehby spokesman Dean Petrone said.

Merkley called for more spending on infrastructure along with tax and trade policies that he says would strengthen the manufacturing sector. Merkley is skeptical of free trade agreements and wants to make it easier for unions to expand.

“If we don’t make things in America, we will not have a middle class here in America,” Merkley said. “And while we’re at it, let’s strengthen the ability of our workers to organize.”

Biden also spoke highly of the labor movement.

“The middle class is what built this country,” Biden said. “And I might add, unions built the middle class.”

After the rally, Biden and Merkley surprised workers and customers with an unannounced stop at Salt and Straw, a popular Portland ice cream shop.

The vice president asked owner Kim Malek what was the closest flavor to chocolate chip. He ended up ordering a scoop of “chocolate wood block” and a scoop of vanilla in a waffle cone.

Merkley “said it’s the best ice cream in town, and I’m an ice cream guy,” Biden said.

Biden started his Western trip with a stop in Las Vegas on Monday followed by events in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Bakersfield, California, on Tuesday. He flies to Seattle on Wednesday evening for an event on the economy and a political event to help Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell.


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