Vice President Joe Biden successfully pressed former Senate colleague Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to abandon the GOP and become a Democrat. The vice president also helped ensure that newly appointed New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand won't face a Democratic primary.
And this fall, Biden's schedule is packed with fundraisers for two Democrats in upcoming governors' races, and for a slew of House freshmen and other vulnerable members of Congress as well as longtime friends and troubled incumbents in the Senate _ a full year before 2010 midterm congressional elections.
No stranger to campaigning, Biden has become a political workhorse for President Barack Obama. The former Delaware senator is spending roughly a quarter of his time on electoral politics as Democrats defend gubernatorial seats in Virginia and New Jersey this fall and prepare to protect their comfortable majorities in Congress next fall.
Unlike Obama, who is handling a full plate of policy issues and has been in Washington just five years, Biden has the time to devote to campaigns and to the long relationships he's cultivated during his 36 years in the Senate. The vice president also appeals to voting demographics that sometimes were cool to Obama during the presidential campaign and that are pivotal constituencies: working-class whites, independents and senior citizens among them.
"He has a little more freedom and flexibility to do things than the president does," said Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff. "There are places where you probably can't employ the president, things that are harder for the president to do and easier for the vice president to do."
Like make it clear to New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney that the White House was backing Gillibrand. (Maloney eventually decided not to run.) Or prod longtime friend Specter to switch parties. Or host countless fundraisers in regions filled with fickle voters who could pose problems for Democrats but whom Biden attracts with his blue-collar upbringing and plainspoken pitch.
"He is someone who can connect with swing voters and particularly with some of the groups that are most at risk for us in the 2010 elections," Klain said.
While the country's No. 2 Democrat is a certain money draw, candidates face risks with Biden. After all, this is a shoot-from-the-lip kind of guy. He raised eyebrows recently by predicting doom for Obama's agenda if Republicans win dozens of Democratic House seats in traditional GOP-leaning districts. Said Biden, "If they take them back, this is the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do."
And despite his long Senate tenure, he's not known for being a politically savvy electoral strategist. He never served at the helm of the Democratic National Committee or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
All told, Biden will have hosted at least 48 events in at least 22 states and Washington between March, when he headlined an event in Little Rock, Ark., for Sen. Blanche Lincoln, and Nov. 21, when he speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson dinner. He's fundraising for party campaign committees as well as for individuals at the direction of the White House and at the request of old friends.
This week alone, he has held events for Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes in Greenwich, Conn., New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes in New York, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine in Atlantic City and North Carolina Rep. Larry Kissell in Washington. He's in Virginia on Thursday for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds.
"He's having an impact all over the country," White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said. "The vice president can go anywhere. His range is diverse."
In many cases, Biden is raising money for House incumbents in swing regions full of volatile voters, like hardscrabble upstate New York, retirement hotbeds in Florida and swaths of central Ohio. He is helping many first-term House lawmakers in dstricts that Obama either won or lost by only a few percentage points.
Likewise, Biden is assisting the most endangered Senate Democrats: Lincoln in Arkansas, Specter in Pennsylvania, Christopher Dodd in Connecticut and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, in Nevada. He's also touching down in Senate battlegrounds like Missouri as well as states that are considered relatively safe, but where former Senate colleagues are running.
And Biden repeatedly has chipped in to help Democrats hold onto governor's seats next month in New Jersey, where Corzine faces GOP challenger Chris Christie, and in Virginia, where Deeds is battling Republican Bob McDonnell for a seat left open by the term-limited Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.
While Obama has done a few events, Biden is picking up the slack like his predecessors have done. But unlike some of them, namely Al Gore and Dick Cheney, Biden is doing it with a grin. He clearly loves the backslapping, chat-'em-up part of politics. It's what attracted Iowans to him in the 2008 Democratic primary. And it's part of what endeared supporters to him during the general election.
It's also what stokes speculation of a Biden presidential run in 2016, assuming Obama seeks and wins a second term. Still, while Biden has left the door open, it's unlikely. He would be nearly 74 on Election Day 2016, and Klain says, "There is no one who works in this office that spends a single minute of the day thinking about 2016."
By the scope of Biden's political portfolio thus far, it seems that many minutes are spent on 2010 _ at least for now.
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