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Legacy Content / FROM THE TRAIL

Obama's Bill Clinton

Biden Has Come To Serve As The Campaign's Unofficial Ambassador To Small-Town America

October 28, 2008

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Barack Obama drew another eye-popping crowd on Sunday, when over 100,000 people came to see him in downtown Denver. One day earlier, Joe Biden had campaigned in Suffolk, Va. -- population just over 63,000. And the crowd? Just 975, according to a local official cited by the campaign.

No one ever expected Biden to draw crowds like his running mate does, but the disparity is more notable when compared to the crowds his Republican counterpart typically draws. The biggest crowd to date for a solo Biden event is over 12,000, in the solidly blue state of Washington. More often, the crowds number in the hundreds to low thousands.

 

Not that the campaign is worried. In fact, officials say the figures are notable given where Biden typically campaigns -- not in major media markets like Denver or St. Louis, but in more rural areas, where they say the crowd sometimes surpasses the actual population.

Both Obama and Biden are spending most of the final stretch in red states, but the vice presidential candidate is doing the heaviest lifting in the reddest terrain. Biden held three events in southern Virginia last week, where he said that he and Obama are "competing for every single vote."

"We believe the Old Dominion can lead America literally to new leadership," he said. "We win here and we win the presidency."

Last week, eight of the 11 towns and cities where Biden appeared were in so-called "red" counties won by George Bush in 2004. In the past two weeks, only five of Biden's 22 events were held in a county that John Kerry won by more than 5 percentage points, compared with eight events where Bush had such a comfortable margin. (Also of note: More than half of the events were in counties where Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Obama in the primaries, particularly stops in Ohio.)

The tactic is similar to one employed by the Clinton campaign during the primaries, when they deployed Bill Clinton to more rural areas (he came to refer to himself as his wife's "ambassador to small-town America"). It also mirrors the successful strategy of other Democrats in Republican-leaning states. In Virginia, it's called the Warner strategy; in Missouri, the McCaskill strategy; in Ohio, the Strickland strategy -- sending Obama surrogates to cut into Republican margins outside of a state's urban areas.

"Obviously there's times when we go into larger markets, but the Republicans have won elections by driving up the score in rural areas and in a lot of the industrial areas of the Midwest and of the mid-Atlantic where Democrats have ceded that territory," said Biden spokesperson David Wade. "Joe Biden's been the ideal messenger to go into those communities."

Biden, who hails from a small state where retail politics is the key to victory, in some ways prefers to campaign in these places, where voters place a premium on getting a more intimate, personal look at the candidate.

"He's always had a sense that these are voters who want to go our way, but they need to see and feel and touch them, take the measure of their jib," Wade said.

At some of these places Biden can also boast of a longer-term connection. For instance, he campaigned last month in Jefferson City, Mo., where he first came in 1976 to support the campaign of now-Rep. Ike Skelton.

"These are places where he's been a known commodity, in some places for 25 years or more," said Wade, calling Biden a "reassuring figure" to local voters.

Perhaps reflecting the areas in which he's campaigning, Biden's stump speech has evolved over the past week to include a much heavier emphasis on bipartisanship and bringing the country together.

"I'm tired of being red and blue. We have purple hearts in this country!" Biden said in Danville, Va., on Friday night. "When this is over, and God willing if we win, you're going to have to join Barack and me in inviting all of those who are on the opposite side, inviting all Americans, inviting our Republicans and independent friends, to join us.... We're going to have to make bygones be bygones."

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