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Observations from covering Biden

From NBC's Ron Allen
ST. LOUIS -- The conventional wisdom has been that vice presidential picks don't make that much of a difference. Well, suddenly it looks as though this historic campaign season has turned that thinking -- like almost everything else -- on its head.

Palin gave the Republican convention a big jolt of energy and excitement. And that seems to be carrying over to the campaign trail, and perhaps even to polls showing the race tighter than ever.

Now covering the Democratic side, the question may well be: What can Joe Biden, the designated attack dog and bad cop, do to fight back.
 
Here in St Louis yesterday, Biden reminded the crowd at a rally that he's going to meet Palin in this city next month for their only scheduled debate. He said he's looking forward to it. It wasn't quite Hillary Clinton's famous, "Meet me in Ohio," challenge to Obama that followed her "Shame on you!" charge about a piece of campaign mail. But maybe Biden's just warming up. Earlier in the day, responding to the back-and-forth about how he should or should not take on a female opponent, Biden pointed out he's been debating smart tough women in Congress for 20 years. He said of the pundits, "I don't know where these guys have been."
 
But that's weeks away.

Out on the trail, through Iowa and Missouri so far this week, it has a daily dose of blue-collar Joey Biden from Scranton, PA. He's full of wisdom from his hardworking and devoted Irish Catholic parents, while leading the charge for team Obama Biden. "I've never seen so many Americans get knocked down with so little help," he lamented with a crowd in battleground Missouri. Biden reassures everyone he understands hard economic times and lost jobs, like the Chrysler plant back home in Delaware since the 1930's that's closing, "and they're selling the property."

On stage, Biden's full of passion and sarcasm as he makes the case against his old buddy John McCain -- "the last guy in American politics to know this (election) is about change." Biden doesn't do soaring rhetoric. He's not much of a wonk, except when wading into a discussion of the "deferral clause," of the tax code that he says gives companies incentive to move jobs abroad.

Mostly, Biden tries to be the father who commutes to work, who claims he doesn't own a single stock or bond, just his house, who's the second poorest guy in the Senate, and who's appalled by the fact that the GOPers barely if ever mentioned the middle class, health care or paying for college at their convention.

The crowds love the anecdotes from Biden's youth, woven through his stump speech, that he says made him who he is. Like the story about a nun who seemed to tease him about his stuttering, sending young Biden running home in shame. But later, he returned with his mother, who with respect and dignity told the good sister not to make fun of her little boy. Or the story about how distraught his Dad was when a bank denied him a college loan to send his son to college. It all turned out well, Biden says, the family found a way.

It's all a far cry from the familiar image of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who's a regular talking head on the Sunday morning shows. He was on Meet the Press last week.

However, this is a campaign that at times seems as much about biography and personal narrative as anything else. Biden on the stump sticks to his story, heavy with concern about middle class anxiety.

He often finishes with a rousing bit of advice from his dad. It's not about how many times you get knocked down, its about getting up, he almost roars at the crowd. "Time to get up," he shouts into the mic, bringing the audience to its feet. Time for America to get up. His story ends. Biden's done.
 
Lately, given that the race has been all about Palin. Biden hasn't been getting much attention. But he is no doubt doing his homework, like the nuns insisted in school, looking for openings, to take on the distinguished Governor of Alaska, while hammering away at his ole buddy John McCain.