LA CROSSE, Wis. -- The doors opened at 11:30 local time for Vice President's first rally since his one and only 2012 debate. As I walked up, I met a man walking out, Ben Albertsen, who was scared away by the line. A week ago, Biden had drawn only 300 people to an Iowa rally. Today he'd draw 2300, across two rooms. Still not huge, when you consider that La Crosse hosted 15,000 Obama supporters in 2008, but a nice sort of homecoming.
"I thought he did great last night," said retiree Howard Sheehan, 71. "I think we needed that after the -- well, I hate to say this, but after the debacle with Obama."
A sort of program began around 12:50, when Rep. Ron Kind and retiring Sen. Herb Kohl took their turns expressing their admiration for the veep. "After last night, he's got a new nickname -- Smokin' Joe!" said Kind. He was proud enpugh of this line to repeat it to the people biding time in the seats close to the stage. Kohl, arguably the least visible member of the U.S. Senate, asked us a rhetorical question: "Does the vice president have the greatest smile in America or what?"
Biden himself was delayed, apparently, by cuteness. On the way to the rally, a local school had lined up its students to meet the veep; the veep obliged. In the Valhalla room at UW-La Crosse, we heard multiple plays of "Mr. Blue Sky" and "I Got You (End of the Century)" and, most ironically, "We Used to Wait." Then at last came Biden, wearing a preppy wool blazer and a version of last night's perma-grin.
"Folks, I'm sure you observed last night we had a little bit of a debate," said Biden. After the applause died down, Biden restated all of the winningest lines from the Ryan showdown. "I made it absolutely clear on behalf of the president and I that we are leaving Aghanistan in 2014, period," he said. Like he did on Thursday, and like the polls suggest Democrats should do, he warned that Romney-Ryan might leave troops in Afghanistan forever. "It depends," said Biden, mimicking Ryan. "It depends on nothing other than the date as far as we're concerned. It's time for the Afghanis to stand up. It depends. It depends on what day you ask them a question."
The rest of the new-old Biden stump speech goes like this:
- Mitt Romney is a rich jerk. "Rep. Ryan saying his budget doesn't cut is like Gov. Romney standing in an unemployment line and saying I didn't outsource that, I offshored it."
- Republicans lie about the Obama tax plan. "You heard last night we raised taxes 99 million times or whatever it was."
- The 47%, the 47%, the 47%. "I don't who they'e talking about. Eighty-two percent of them pay their payroll taxes at a higher effective rate than Romney pays his taxes."
- Abortion rights are on the ballot. "Congressman Ryan made it very clear that he and Gov. Romney are prepared to impose their private views on everyone else."
- Criticizing the administration is, in effect, doubting American resolve. "I got news for Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan -- America is neither dependent, nor is it in decline. You will always lose when you bet against the American people. You always lose!"