Tied to Obama, Biden forges his own distinct role

By Josh Lederman

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 27 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

"The standing joke in the office is Barack's learning to speak without a teleprompter, I'm learning to speak with one," Biden quipped Tuesday at a Jewish American heritage event, managing to be self-effacing while coming close to slighting his boss in the course of a single sentence.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University who interviewed Biden for a recent feature in Rolling Stone magazine, said Biden's become "the Chris Christie of the Democratic Party," a reference to New Jersey's shoot-from-the-hip Republican governor.

"Biden's kind of a joke to the right," Brinkley said, "but in core Democratic circles, they feel that somehow this longtime Washington politician has packaged himself as the straight talker who's not hostage to Washington."

"That kind of makeover doesn't happen by accident," he said.

Behind the scenes, Biden is doing the legwork to keep his membership current in key Democratic circles. He's making recruitment calls for the House Democrats' campaign arm ahead of the 2014 midterms. During inaugural weekend, he schmoozed with prominent Democrats from Iowa and New Hampshire — the first two states to hold presidential primary contests. While vacationing in early April in South Carolina, another key early primary state, Biden invited the state party chair, Dick Harpootlian, for a round of golf.

A few weeks later, Biden was back in the Palmetto State, where he let his voice rise to a boil as he keynoted the state party's annual fundraising dinner.

"To all of a sudden, since the last election, hear our Republican friends talk about how much they value the middle class ... " Biden said with dismay. He noted state Republicans were holding a competing dinner a few miles away. "I'll bet they're talking about the middle class — oomph."

When the laughter subsided, a more restrained Biden emerged.

"I don't want to make any news tonight," he said.

"Go ahead!" one activist in the audience shouted, egging him on.

Minutes later, Biden was whisked by motorcade across town, where he riffed on voting access before a casual crowd downing beers at a fish fry in honor of longtime Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. For almost an hour, he worked a rope-line, five-people deep, greeting supporters and posing for pictures the way he did years earlier in two unsuccessful presidential campaigns.

Follow Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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