"I am absolutely convinced that this is about ideas, and it's not about money," Biden told a crowd of about 900 people at the Delaware Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner. Money and prestige have dominated the race so far, he said, but ideas will matter.
Biden, who trails far behind Democratic rivals, and in fundraising, said voters in early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are looking for a knowledgeable candidate who can lead the country through what he said would be a difficult decade.
He said the idea of a candidate raising $85 million to $90 million is "astounding," but that he still considered it a level playing field in the early primary states and voters in those states care what a candidate has to say.
"The American people know that this president has dug us into a very, very deep hole," said Biden, who described the Iraq war as the single biggest foreign policy mistake in U.S. history.
"The next four years is going to determine whether or not America regains its footing and reinvigorates the middle class or continue on this spiral that this administration has put us into," said Biden, adding that the next president has the greatest opportunity since Franklin Roosevelt to "change the direction of the world."
Before he gets to the White House, however, Biden faces a tough battle against his Democratic rivals, including front-runner Clinton. He compared the Democratic primary to his successful 1972 Senate race as a 28-year-old upstart taking on popular Republican incumbent and former Delaware governor Caleb Boggs.
"I am not on a fool's errand; I realize I need your help," said Biden, who predicted that the top three finishers in the Iowa caucuses will live to fight on, but that those who don't will not be viable candidates.
Talking to reporters before his speech, Biden criticized Hillary Clinton for a recent vote in favor of a Bush administration effort to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
"I think it was a very bad vote to cast," said Biden, who voted against the measure and chastised Obama for missing the vote in favor of campaigning.
"If we move to attack Iran, the consequences in the Muslim world would be significant," said Biden, adding that it could further destabilize the Middle East and complicate matters for Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Pakistan president Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers should be wary of following the administration's lead vis-a-vis Iran, given what he said was misuse of congressional authorizations regarding Iraq.
"I don't have any trust in the president's judgment and this administration's judgment, so I think it was a very serious mistake," he said, accusing Clinton of a "serious lapse in judgment."
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, also has criticized Clinton for her vote.
Clinton, the only Democrat running for president to support the Senate measure, has said she doesn't believe that the vote on the Revolutionary Guard would lead to U.S. military action, and that she was voting for stepped-up diplomacy and economic sanctions.
"This administration is seriously devoid of any diplomatic skills and has an approach that I think is extremely dangerous," Biden said.
America is most isolated now than it ever has been during his political career, Biden said, adding that the American middle class is uncertain about its future. 2008 will be the single most important election than any of the others his audience has voted in, he said.
Too many of the presidential contenders have not leveled with the American people about the sacrifices that will be required for America to regain its standing in the world, Biden said, adding that the challenges the country faces also present new opportunities.