The Pros and Cons of Joe Biden Hitting the Campaign Trail

The veep is hitting the campaign trail—challenging the GOP for blue-collar votes and giving reporters sick of scripted candidates a sudden thrill.

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo


If you think the presidential race has been a gas so far, brace yourself: Joe Biden is hitting the campaign trail.

Not content to let Republicans have all the Super Tuesday fun, word from the White House on Tuesday had it, Team Obama is set to unleash the irrepressible VP on the heartland. Beginning next week, Biden will deliver four major speeches in various battleground states, starting in oh-so-crucial Ohio. His aim, according to an anonymous campaign aide, is to lay out the issues that will define the general election.

Whatever your politics, you’ve got to love it when Biden gets out and about. The famously unscripted, undisciplined, verbally incontinent VP tends to offer a little something for everyone.

Republicans and other critics smack their lips in anticipation of the VP’s unpredictable yet utterly inevitable gaffes. And Biden gaffes, as political watchers will tell you, are gaffes in the true Washington sense of the word: when a politician accidentally speaks the truth. Remember his autumn ’08 prediction about how the international community would feel compelled “to test the mettle” of a green president like Obama? Or how about his economic-recovery pep talk to House Democrats a few months later: “If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.” And just a couple of months after that, there was his altogether too-honest reaction to the swine-flu panic: “I would tell members of my family—and I have—I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now.”

Boy oh boy, did the travel industry love that one.

The firestorms touched off by Biden’s verbal slips are, of course, catnip to political reporters. In an era when most politicians are masters at sticking to their team’s mind-numbingly vapid talking points, Biden holds out the eternal promise of saying something unexpected, possibly controversial, perhaps even outright inflammatory. The fact that his boss is one of the most tightly scripted control freaks in modern politics merely adds to the excitement.

That contrast and tension are also what make Biden a pretty damn good surrogate for Obama. He is the mouthy, messy, passionate goofball to the president’s cool-cat persona. He loves the retail aspects of politics and relates well to garden-variety voters. Tearing him away from a crowd at public events is harder than pulling Rick Perry off the gun range.

And you know who really loves Joe, and who Joe loves in return? Blue-collar types, especially union workers. That’s right, the very demographic with whom neither the president nor his presumptive rival, Mitt Romney, seems to have a lick of rapport. But Joe. Oy. I once watched him charm the pants off a ballroom full of AFL-CIO leaders with cheesy shout-outs, cornball jokes, and heart-tugging tales of his own economically fraught upbringing.

The amount of back-slapping and cheek-kissing that Biden goes through in a single day on the trail would be enough to down a lesser pol. But not Joe. Joe is a gabber. Joe is a toucher—and not in a creepy, hide-your-interns kind of way. He’s just an effusive, effervescent, eager-to-connect kind of guy.

Which, let’s face it, is what both teams desperately need these days.