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Biden, Obama a Comfortable Fit on the Campaign Trail
"I'm really pleased with Joe Biden," Obama said as the tour was getting started on Friday. "You know, our families have just really hit it off."
Biden also plays the role of validater, translating Obama's life story and values to the white, blue-collar Democrats he has struggled to attract. Describing his hard upbringing to the Toledo crowd, Biden said of Obama, "One of the things Barack and I share in common: I said I was raised by a dad who had to leave to go find work -- Barack was raised by a single mom who worked and went to school. We come from the same kind of stock you all come from."
Biden's new role gives him a chance at redemption after two failed presidential bids. Although widely respected within his party and once considered an Obama-like rising star, he has never clicked as a national candidate. And despite 36 years in the Senate, he remains prone to verbal gaffes and to talking too long.
But those attributes can come off as more endearing than exasperating alongside Obama, who is so polished that he borders on boring. At the start of the Toledo event, the Democratic nominee worked the rope line with his usual surgical precision and reached the podium far ahead of Biden, who was still posing for pictures with police officers and embracing elderly women.
He still has some rough edges. During a "60 Minutes" interview that aired last night, host Steve Kroft asked Biden about the plagiarism controversy that drove him out of the presidential race in 1988. The senator gave a halting response, mangling his explanation that he had forgotten to attribute quotes to British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock during a debate, although he had repeatedly credited Kinnock in previous references.
"I was arrogant. I didn't think I had to prepare," Biden responded. "But I think that I have a record that people can go back and examine and decide whether or not I mean what I say -- no matter how I say it."
As Biden meandered, Obama jumped in: "I like who he is. And I think the American people will."
One change in Biden since his ascent is his willingness to talk about the deaths of his first wife, Neilia, and their baby daughter, Naomi, in a traffic accident weeks after he won his first Senate race in 1972. Earlier this year, when Iowa voters would ask him about the accident, Biden would say that to talk about it was to relive it.
Now he accepts it as part of his appeal. On Friday night, when Obama and Biden met Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, Biden recounted how "Old Mr. Rooney" -- Steelers owner Dan Rooney -- dispatched some players from his championship team to the hospital room in Wilmington where Biden's two toddler sons, Beau and Hunter, were recovering from the accident. They brought the boys an autographed football as a Christmas present.
"And I have been a Steelers fan since that day," Biden told Tomlin.
"Not much has changed," Tomlin responded.
After attending the funeral Saturday of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), Biden recalled another harrowing moment in his life, when he suffered two brain aneurysms within months of dropping out of the 1988 race. Tubbs Jones had died suddenly of the same condition.
"When mine burst, fortunately as described to me by the neurosurgeons, it ricocheted off my skull instead of into my brain," Biden explained. "Had it been the other way around, I would be where she is."