GRINNELL, Iowa (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden reached into the heart of blue-collar southeast Iowa on a two day campaign trip here this week, hoping to improve President Barack Obama's chances of carrying the state he captured four years ago.
Biden campaigned on Monday in Burlington and Tuesday in Ottumwa, the seats of counties the Democratic ticket carried in 2008.
But white, working-class voters, who dominate these two manufacturing towns, have been a sore spot for Obama in Iowa, and other swing states he carried and needs to again to win re-election.
That's where Biden comes in.
"President Obama understands that creating jobs here in America, keeping jobs here in America, bringing jobs back to America, that is a president's job," Biden said. "That's why the president stepped up and rescued the automobile industry."
During his stops in southeast Iowa, Biden, a former senator who grew up in blue-collar Scranton, Pa., mixed his flair for stoking pro-labor sentiment with his role as the Obama campaign's chief critic of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In Burlington, he jabbed at Romney for opposing the auto bailout. Jobs along the U.S. auto industry's supply chain, such as many of those at Burlington's Champion sparkplug factory, benefited, Biden said.
Biden also carried Obama's new campaign message this week. While Romney has accused Obama of failing to challenge China for unfair trade practices, Obama undertook a new enforcement action this week.
The strategy has allowed Biden to renew his criticisms of Romney's former work as head of a private equity firm that outsourced jobs overseas.
By contrast Obama's challenge of China over tire manufacturing means "a thousand people are making a good wage making tires for America today," Biden said.
Biden's folksy style, tendency to quote family members and ability to hold the audience rapt with hushed tones and spur them to cheers with fiery rhetoric makes him a popular surrogate.
"Joe Biden is a welcome figure here," said Rex Shively, a retired John Deere employee from Ottumwa. "He talks like we do. He thinks like we do."
Obama has long struggled with white, working-class voters such as Shively, even in his own party.
Shively, like such voters in places such as Ohio and Virginia, voted for Hillary Clinton over Obama in 2008 as they fought for the Democratic nomination. Obama won the Iowa caucuses, which Obama won on the strength of first-time caucusgoers and young voters, not traditional, labor-union Democrats.
According to an Associated Press-GfK poll published last month, Romney leads by double-digits among white voters without college degrees.
It's a demographic where Ryan also is seen as an asset to the GOP ticket. Ryan, from the southern Wisconsin manufacturing hub of Janesville, and has been dispatched to places such as southern Ohio for Romney.
Biden finished his two-day trip to Iowa with a stop in Grinnell, a college town in Powashiek County, which Obama also carried. There, he touted the administration's effort to ease student loan repayment.
Obama carried Des Moines County, home of Burlington's picturesque Mississippi River port, and Wapello County, home to Ottumwa about an hour west, during the 2008 election. Unemployment in both counties has run at least a percentage point higher than the state's average.
Biden has already been to Iowa six times this year, as he and Obama have traded frequent visits. So have Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
Biden has plenty of Iowa history. He made lifelong friends campaigning here during his failed bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. He was also a regular visitor in 2007, during his second bid for the nomination.
He is of particular value to Obama in small cities with struggling industrial bases. Last week, Biden visited Chillicothe, Ohio, in that battleground state's south.