Vice President Joe Biden takes working class message to Scranton with Clinton

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Vice President Joe Biden will make his 2016 debut on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton on Monday, taking his blue-collar charm to a place dear to his heart: his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Biden, 73, has emerged as one of Clinton’s most powerful surrogates. The former Delaware senator’s ability to connect with middle- and working-class voters will be especially potent in battleground Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where economic frustrations are running high.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has made this region a focal point of his general election strategy and is banking on the populist economic message that helped propel him to the top during the primaries to win him independents and Reagan Democrats on Election Day.

Biden offered a preview of his unique ability to defend his party’s policies and put Trump in the hot seat in a fiery prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last month. After walking out to the theme of “Rocky,” he cast the New York businessman as a candidate lacking compassion as well as the readiness to be the country’s commander-in-chief.

“How can there be pleasure in saying ‘you’re fired?’ He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle class? Give me a break!” Biden said. “This guy doesn’t have a clue about the middle class. Not a clue. He has no clue about what makes America great.”

Monday’s event was originally scheduled for last month, but was canceled in the aftermath of an ambush in Dallas that killed five police officers.

As he nears the end of his two-term vice presidency, Biden has emerged one of Clinton’s most powerful surrogates.

Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons told CNN in a recent interview that there is no one better at connecting with voters who feel “left out and overlooked.”

“If I were campaigning in Pennsylvania for the United States Senate, there is no one I would want next to me more than Joe Biden,” Coons said. “No one works a diner, no one works a volunteer fire hall, no one works a senior center better than Joe Biden.”

Famous for his gregarious personality and unfiltered style, Biden is the latest in a string of high-profile Democrats to hit the road for Clinton. President Barack Obama held his first joint event with his 2008 rival in North Carolina last month, and Clinton has also picked up endorsements from popular liberals like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and primary rival Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator.

For many of Biden’s fans and long-time allies, the vice president’s appearance at the convention was bittersweet. Biden ran for president in 1988 and 2008, and last year, he contemplated launching a third White House bid.

But the death of his son, Beau, made it impossible for Biden to pursue that dream. With his wife, Jill, and Obama by his side, Biden announced at the White House Rose Garden in October that he had finally closed the door on this decades-old political aspiration.

“While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent,” Biden said. “I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully, to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.”

Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware, watched Biden speak inside the convention arena last month. She described the moment as an emotional one for the Delaware delegation, particularly as they listened to Biden speak about his son.

“It was bittersweet for us as Delawareans — it might be the last time that we ever see him on a stage like this,” Goodman said. “I think that Joe is nothing if not heart. And his heart was broken. And as he says, he’ll be stronger in the broken places but it’s going to take time.”

Steve Schale, a longtime Democratic strategist who was a part of the Draft Biden 2016 effort, said when he recently saw Biden, there was no question that the vice president was “at complete peace with the decision he made in October” — and now wholly dedicated to the mission of electing Clinton to the White House.

Trump is going hard after Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, campaigning last week in the western part of the state, hoping his anti-trade and anti-establishment message sells well with blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt.

At the same time, Trump says the only way he can lose the state is if there is “cheating.”

“We’re going to watch Pennsylvania,” he said in Altoona on Friday. “Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times. If you do that, we’re not going to lose. The only way we can lose, in my opinion — I really mean this, Pennsylvania — is if cheating goes on.”