Joe Biden was relegated to a role at this year’s Democratic convention that gave him less exposure than former President Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, and even Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
The vice president addressed the Democratic National Convention Thursday during an hour that put him on only one of the major U.S. television networks. The nonmarquee slot marks a shift from Biden’s pivotal position in advocating Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency in 2008.
In his speech, Biden stepped forward Thursday as Barack Obama’s chief character witness, link to middle class voters and potentially the most biting critic of Republican rival Mitt Romney.
Speaking candidly about his front-row seat to Obama’s presidency, Biden used his speech to the Democrats’ convention to paint his friend as a gutsy leader who helped the nation turn the corner on its dour economy. He pointed to the decisions to bail out Detroit’s auto industry and to dispatch Navy SEALs into Pakistan for a fatal raid on al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s compound.
“Conviction. Resolve. Barack Obama,” Biden shouted to delegates watching in the convention hall and millions more watching at home.
Biden, the sometimes off-script but always fiery vice president, praised Obama’s hardest decisions. He deviated from his prepared remarks at times to include some of his signature rhetorical flourishes but stayed focused on the arguments Obama needs him to make to white, working-class voters.
“This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart and steel in his spine,” Biden said, drawing the crowd to its feet. “And because of all the actions he took, because of the calls he made, because of the grit and determination of American workers, and the unparalleled bravery of our special forces we can now proudly say what you’ve heard me say the last six months: Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.”
Joel Goldstein, a law professor at Saint Louis University who has written extensively on the vice presidency, said incumbent vice presidential candidates have a somewhat limited impact. “When you’re brand new to the stage, there’s a fresh evaluation going on,” he said.
Four years ago, Biden gave the capstone speech on the third night of the Democrats’ convention in Denver, providing the national security ballast to Obama’s candidacy and the connection to white working-class America. This year, Biden will be more of a cheerleader for Obama’s achievements: the auto industry rescue, the stimulus that helped stanch the recession and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Within the three-day arc of the convention, planners decided it worked best for Clinton to make the case for Obama’s economic policies and Biden to serve the next night as a witness to the president’s decisions, said a person familiar with the planning, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The effusive, blunt-spoken vice president’s penchant for gaffes, lampooned on late-night comedy shows, also has cut into his public persona. Biden, 69, once asked a state senator in a wheelchair to stand up to be recognized.
Earlier this year, he had to apologize to Obama for getting ahead of the president in announcing public backing of same-sex marriage rights. And his remarks last month that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s regulatory policies would put middle-income Americans “back in chains” opened a war of words between the two campaigns.
“Some of Biden’s well-publicized gaffes and mistakes have had an impact,” said Carroll Doherty, associate director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington. “When you ask people to come up with words to describe him, many of them use words that are mocking or disparaging.”
The Associated Press contributed.