Once considered primarily the Obama campaign’s designated attack dog, Vice President Joseph R. Biden has adopted a role that is lower in profile but more versatile on the stump in this election season.
Mr. Biden still enjoys taking shots at presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but the vice president has been just as likely in recent months to accept less headline-grabbing campaign assignments, such as holding fundraisers in Utah or courting seniors over ice cream in Iowa. He also has become the campaign’s go-to guy when Team Obama needs a keynote speaker to schmooze core groups of the Democratic base, including trade unions, trial lawyers and civil rights organizations.
Mr. Biden has spoken to groups across the country such as the National Council of La Raza, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the U.S. Vets career center in Las Vegas.
One day, the vice president is bonding with Hispanics about growing up Catholic; the next day, he is praising personal-injury lawyers at a convention by telling them, “I don’t know what we’d do without you. Who is going to step up and take the case of the little guy who’s getting screwed?”
In all of his campaign travels, the loquacious Mr. Biden manages for the most part to keep to his script of attacking Mr. Romney. At a fundraiser in Park City, Utah, last month, the vice president began by telling the crowd that he was ditching his prepared remarks — a move that might send shivers down the spines of top campaign officials. But Mr. Biden, a veteran campaigner, delivered the partisan red meat easily.
“Close your eyes. I’m not being facetious, and imagine what a Supreme Court would look like after four years [of Mr. Romney],” Mr. Biden told the crowd of about 300. “Imagine what it will look like for women with six [Antonin] Scalias on the bench.”
Republicans dismiss Mr. Biden as a gaffe-prone campaign accident waiting to happen, and they suggest that this is the reason the vice president has not emerged with a higher profile on the campaign trail.
“Joe Biden has demonstrated an impressive ability to make hilarious gaffes and blunders that have undermined the Obama campaign’s strategy,” said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams. “It takes determination and real skill to throw the president of the United States wildly off message — and Joe Biden has managed to master this talent.”
That was a reference to the well-publicized episode in May when Mr. Biden declared his support for same-sex marriage and thereby “forced” President Obama to take a stand on the issue sooner than planned. The vice president apologized to Mr. Obama, although Democrats’ fundraising soared in the days after the president came out in favor of same-sex marriage.
Perhaps the vice president’s low point on the campaign trail occurred in May, when he joked to an audience at a fundraiser in Washington: “You all look dull as hell.”
“The dullest audience I have ever spoken to,” he said to members of the Turkish and Azerbaijani communities, eliciting laughs. “Just sitting there, staring at me. Pretend you like me.”
Mr. Biden will never be accused of being a marketing genius. He is no longer referring with great frequency to his idea for the perfect campaign bumper sticker: “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
But since the gay-marriage comment three months ago, the vice president’s blooper reel has been essentially empty.
“He’s actually been pretty solid, as far as the statements he’s made,” said Mr. Johnson, author of a book on political consultants and campaigns. “Obama has more to worry about Bill Clinton going off the script, because he and Bill Clinton are ‘frenemies’ until the end, than he has to worry about Joe Biden.”
In June, Mr. Clinton caused the Obama campaign to go off message by endorsing GOP tax cuts for even the wealthiest wage earners. He later apologized, saying he was mistaken about the timing of congressional action needed to stave off tax increases.
The former president also poses a challenge for Mr. Biden’s role in the campaign because of Mr. Clinton’s unquestionable star power in the Democratic Party, as well as that of his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was telling that Democrats have given Mr. Clinton his own night to speak at their party convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September, while Mr. Biden must share the stage with Mr. Obama on the final night of the convention.
Whether he is No. 2 or No. 5 on Mr. Obama’s list of surrogates, Mr. Biden is valued as someone who can connect with blue-collar, Reagan Democrats better than his boss. His roots in Scranton, Pa., give him the credibility to campaign in key battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.