COLUMBUS, Ohio — Vice President Joe Biden is reprising his role as one of the Obama administration's top surrogates on the economy and an empathetic voice in states hard hit by the recession which could decide the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.
Biden, who spoke frequently of his working class roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, during the 2008 presidential campaign, is expected to focus in the 2012 campaign on states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which President Barack Obama carried in 2008 but which elected Republican governors in 2010.
Polls show that Obama remains personally popular, but has lower job approval ratings. Republicans say the sputtering economic recovery with high unemployment and a slumping housing market has left Obama vulnerable.
A large swath of the Midwest, including Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin — all won by Obama in 2008 — are considered prime targets for Republicans next year.
Biden "obviously has deep, deep roots in the industrial Midwest running from Pennsylvania right across and he'll be very valuable there," Obama strategist David Axelrod told reporters in Chicago earlier this week. "But he's somebody we would send and will send anywhere in this country."
Biden, who was speaking Saturday evening to the Ohio Democratic Party's annual State Dinner, has assailed moves by Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio to strip away collective bargaining rights from most public workers and efforts by Republican lawmakers in Congress to turn the Medicare health care program for the elderly into a plan in which the government subsidizes beneficiaries who would seek coverage from private insurance companies.
The vice president has defended Obama's handling of the economy, pointing to tough decisions to seek an economic stimulus package and rescue U.S. automakers. But his pitch often turns personal, drawing on his father's decision to move the family to Delaware in the 1950s in search of a job.
"There's still a long way to go. There are still millions of women and men who are like the family I was raised in," Biden told Democrats in New Hampshire last month. "When a recession hit, we knew someone sitting around my dad's kitchen table ... was going to lose their job."
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who also rose from modest circumstances, said Biden "has the ability to express what a lot of people feel when it comes to their anxieties over the economy and job loss, their kids. I think he does a really good job of identifying with those concerns and expressing them."
Largely under the radar, Biden, a former U.S. Senator from Delaware, has maintained a busy travel schedule, appearing in more than 150 political events in 2009 and 2010, including 20 events in Ohio alone and 14 in Pennsylvania. In 2011, he had appeared at more than a dozen political events before Saturday's dinner in Ohio and is headlining fundraisers on Monday in Atlanta and Nashville, Tennessee.
In July, Biden is scheduled to speak to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labor union in Las Vegas, the National Education Association annual convention in Chicago and the National Association of Police Organizations in Dallas. Next fall, he is addressing the Florida Democratic Party's state convention.
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