MANCHESTER, N.H. The vice presidential nominee you aren't hearing so much about, Democrat Joe Biden, is planning a more prominent role to help validate Barack Obama among white working-class voters and criticize the Republican rival he's long called a friend.
Republican running mate Sarah Palin is soaking up the campaign spotlight with magazine covers and joint rallies with John McCain that draw thousands, while Biden has had a more traditional role of second fiddle to the man at the top of the ticket. But the campaign envisions a new role for its No. 2 in helping make the closing argument against McCain.
Biden privately told reporters traveling with him last week that Palin was a smart political choice who has changed the race but is not prepared to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. The Associated Press is not among Biden's traveling press, but the off-the-record comment Tuesday was described by two people who were there and confirmed by a senior campaign official.
Biden's focus will be on McCain, not Palin, campaign officials say. They are calculating that the election will be determined on voters' feelings about Obama and McCain. Biden is in a unique position to help convince voters that McCain is the wrong choice, they say, because of a relationship that goes back even beyond their 22 years of working together in the Senate.
In the late 1970s, when Biden was a young senator and McCain was the Senate naval liaison, the two traveled the world on Foreign Relations Committee fact-finding trips. They became friends, as did their families.
Biden's argument will be that he knows McCain well enough to say that even though he's right on character, he's wrong on the issues, advisers said.
He's scheduled to give two major speeches framing the race before the presidential debates get under way one on domestic policy Monday in Flat Rock, Mich., and another on national security Sept. 22 in Baltimore.
Biden's other responsibilities will include top campaign fundraiser and helping validate Obama with communities that have been skeptical of his candidacy to varying degrees Jewish voters, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's backers, union members and other middle-class voters. His travel is heavy on the industrial Midwest, with this week's itinerary including Saint Clair Shores, Mich., Media, Pa., and two days traveling by bus through Ohio.
He canceled plans to appear Saturday with Obama in New Hampshire because of Hurricane Ike, the campaign said. But the two men met privately Thursday night in New York, and a senior campaign official said Biden told Obama they must keep the focus on McCain and the economy and argue that McCain would be "dangerous" as president given the volatility of the economy and world.
Part of Biden's appeal as a running mate is his comfort in debating rivals and tearing them down something that isn't always Obama's strong suit, although he is taking a more aggressive tone in the campaign's final weeks.
Some Democrats have privately complained that Biden hasn't been a more prominent attack dog. In a memo Friday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe outlined a more aggressive campaign against McCain. "Biden will be integral to that effort, both in pushing back on the lies that we'll continue to see from our opponents and in keeping the debate focused on delivering for everyday Americans," he said.
Biden spokesman David Wade said the Delaware senator will be "Mr. October."
"He's a closer," Wade said. "He's the vice presidential nominee you want slugging it out in the late innings when proven campaign skills, intestinal fortitude, expertise and experience matter most."
McCain campaign spokesman Ben Porritt was dismissive of Biden, calling him "a drag on the ticket because he's a Washington insider with no record of bringing change."