Joe Biden is the Rodney Dangerfield of modern American politics.

FILE - In this March 15, 2012, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden in Toledo, Ohio. Biden has issued a strong defense of President Barack Obama's foreign policy record and suggested that Republican Mitt Romney doesn't understand the role of contemporary commander in chief. (AP Photo/Madalyn Ruggiero, File)

But, to assume Biden is simply a bit player as President Obama ramps up his 2012 re-election bid is to drastically underestimate the role he is, can and almost certainly will play in helping to shape the race.

On Thursday, Biden delivered his fifth speech of the campaign — this one on foreign policy — aimed at simultaneously framing the stakes of the election and taking some off the bark off of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

It’s not by chance that the Chicago braintrust chose Biden to set the terms of the debate in the race, to serve as a slow burn start to the campaign, which will start formally next week when Obama does rallies in Richmond, Virginia and Columbus, Ohio.

“He’s the President’s partner, most visible surrogate and a great spokesman on key issues that will define this campaign,” said one campaign official of Biden’s role.

So, what specifically can Biden do to help Obama win reelection? Two things stands out.

1. Attack Romney. A lot: Unlike many of the men who have held the office of vice president before him, Biden doesn’t spend most of his time figuring out how what happens in this campaign will affect his own bid for president in four years time. (While there is some sentiment within the Democratic party not to rule Biden out as a candidate in 2016, it seems like a very unlikely possibility.)

Freed from worrying about denting his own reputation in advance of a future bid, Biden can throw the haymakers that the President is either unwilling or unable to deliver. One example: In Biden’s speech on Thursday, he said that Romney was “dangerously divorced from today’s realities” on maters of foreign policy. Said one senior Obama campaign operative of Biden’s role: “He’ll play a big role in the campaign, particularly in setting Romney straight on his record and [on] the President’s.”

2. Go where Obama can’t: No one this side of Bill Clinton can connect with blue-collar, Reagan Democrats better than Biden. His Scranton (Pa.) roots and natural populist streak means he can go to cities and towns across the Rust Belt and genuinely connect with those key voters in a way that Obama struggles to do. And given that Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania could well decide the election, the presence of a potent surrogate like Biden is not to be overlooked.

To be clear, Biden is not a perfect politician by any means. He does tend to go off script more than you’d like in a major surrogate and his decades as a senator in Washington reek of “politician”.

Still, those who underestimate what Biden means to the Obama campaign — and the prominence of the role he will play in it — do so at their own peril.

Dems preview Scott Brown’s returns: Both Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren (D) are releasing past tax returns today. But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to get ahead of the release with a memo emphasizing Brown’s wealth.

Drawing on the senator’s financial disclosure statements and news reports, the memo notes that Brown owns six homes estimated at a total worth of over $1.6 million, that his pickup truck was bought to tow a horse trailer and that his famous barn coat sells for $675.

Brown’s campaign has pointed out that Warren is releasing only four years of tax returns while the senator is releasing six. “It doesn’t take a Harvard Law degree to see through Elizabeth Warren’s game of cat and mouse and know she has something to hide,” campaign manager Jim Barnett said in a statement.

Sherrod Brown attacks: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is going on the air today with his first ad, attacking state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R).

The ad, “How to Succeed,” hits Mandel for hiring young and relatively inexperienced campaign aides as government staffers. “Josh Mandel: He’s just a politician we can’t trust,” the narrator says.

Mandel released his first ad, a positive spot, last week.

Brown did not release the size of the buy; Politico reports that its about $150,000 while Mandel spent about $580,000.

New RSLC ad in Wisconsin: The Republican State Legislative Committee has a new ad going up in one of the Wisconsin state senate recalls as new Democratic polling shows a tight race for control of the chamber.

The RSLC is putting $245,000 behind an ad attacking state Rep. Kristen Dexter (D), who is challenging state Sen. Terry Moulton in the Chippewa Valley, saying she is “giving away your money with both hands.”

Polling done for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee shows Dexter trailing Moulton by two points. Democrats need one victory on June 5 to take the state Senate.


Michael Biundo, who served as Rick Santorum’s campaign manager, has been hired by Romney’s team to help unite conservative voters.

HBO is making a documentary about George H.W. Bush.

Democrats are going on the air in the special election for former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ Arizona seat.

The outside group Public Notice is airing an ad in D.C. and on national cable about Congress’ failure to pass a budget.

Bill Clinton uses his surrogate skills to help Obama.

Ron Paul supporters could cause chaos at the Nevada GOP convention.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is endorsing former state Rep. Lori Saldana in CA-52.

Must Reads:

Gingrich is quitting (just give him a little time) - Mark Leibovich, New York Times

Nebraska battle complicates GOP effort to retake Senate - Alexander Bolton, The Hill

As Gingrich prepares exit, what will his billionaire benefactor do next? - Kevin Bohn, CNN

Why Jeb Bush doesn’t wan’t veep - Jonathan Martin, Politico