LAS VEGAS -- As he began his speech before more than 1,800 Latino activists gathered at the National Council of La Raza, Vice President Joe Biden paused to ask for forgiveness.
"Anticipatory absolution," he said, with a smile. The crowd, filled with Hispanic Catholics, applauded its approval. "Bless me, Father, I hope I don't sin."
Then he lit into GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, flaying him as out of touch with the middle class and out of step with the Latino community. It was a blistering speech highlighted by Biden chiding Romney over his refusal to release multiple years of tax returns.
"He wants you to show your papers, but he won't show us his," Biden said. The crowd roared. And Biden beamed his toothy grin.
In fact, for much of the doom-and-gloom address about the dark days ahead for America under a potential President Romney, Biden kept smiling, relishing his role as the president's attack dog.
He mixed lighthearted asides into his harsh barbs. He shared the challenge, for instance, of multiple generations living under his parents' roof - a common occurrence in the Latino community. "Those walls were awful thin. I don't know how the hell my parents did it," he joked.
"Joe Biden is a great campaigner. He's got a very common touch. From just a delivery standpoint, I thought it was okay," said Hector Barreto, a former administrator of the Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush, who was on hand to respond for the Romney campaign.
"But I mean there was no there, there. What was that speech all about? It was about scaring people," Barreto said.
Barreto's right about that: The speech was about scaring people, goading the audience of activists into service of the president's reelection. But Biden's happy warrior delivery helped the harsh political medicine go down easier.
It was also a reminder of why Romney is reportedly considering naming his vice presidential pick earlier than the convention. The political math is simple: A two-person ticket is better than one, especially when the No. 2 can plunge the knife into the opponent with a smile.