By Chris Bragg
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Although Commerce City is almost 1,700 miles from Scranton, Pa., Barack Obama’s campaign thinks there are enough similarities between the two that Sen. Joe Biden’s message will be effective both places.
Biden, of course, hails from Scranton and represents nearby Delaware in the U.S. Senate. Obama chose Biden as his running mate at least partly for his ability to relate to white, blue-collar voters in swing states.
Sen. Joe Biden spends time mixing with supporters following his working-class message to Commerce City on Tuesday.
So Biden brought his working-class message to Commerce City on Tuesday afternoon.
How is Commerce City like Scranton? For one, they’re both energy-industry towns. One is known for refining petroleum, the other for mining coal.
And in both, the economy is issue No. 1.
“The American dream is becoming more and more distant to millions and millions of American mothers and fathers who have seen the tables turned on them,” Biden told a mostly Hispanic crowd of 2,500 in the gym of Adams City High School. “If you work hard, if you play by the rules, if you believe in your country, there is nothing you can’t do.”
More than half of Commerce City’s population is Hispanic — a clear contrast with Scranton’s 97 percent Anglo populace.
The two towns, however, share working class roots, and Biden is positioned as one of the Obama campaign’s “validators” — spokespeople handpicked for their rapport with working-class voters.
Another validator in Pennsylvania is Gov. Ed Rendell; in Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland; in Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill; in Virginia, Sen. Jim Webb.
And if Biden needed an additional a link in order to connect with the Hispanic crowd, it was provided by former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, who spoke in English and repeated his remarks in Spanish.
Peña told the assembly that Biden, “was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he never forgot the working class roots of his family and of his life.”
When Biden got out on stage, he related that Peña had advised him to speak to the crowd in Spanish.
“I told him I could hardly speak English,” Biden said.
If Biden’s strength is his working class roots, his weakness is a propensity to stick his foot in his mouth. That happened a couple days before the Commerce City rally, when the vice presidential candidate told fundraisers in Seattle that Obama would face a major international “test” early in his presidency.
That became fodder for Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who told a Pennsylvania crowd that, “They won’t test me. I’ve been tested.”
On Tuesday, Biden touched on the issue only tangentially.
“I promise you America: I’m ready. Barack Obama is ready. It’s our time. It’s America’s time,” he said.
The McCain campaign also began painting Obama as a “socialist” after he made the now-famous comment to “Joe the Plumber” about “spreading the wealth.”
Former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, echoed that theme about Obama in a statement during Biden’s visit.
“Barack Obama’s tax hikes on small businesses, capital gains, and energy would be devastating to an already struggling economy,” Owens said. “It seems that when American families are facing the toughest times, Barack Obama and Joe Biden see an opportunity to increase the size of government and cash in with higher taxes.
“If Barack Obama understood as much as Joe the Plumber about taking risks and creating jobs, he wouldn’t have to change his tax plan every time he speaks to a different audience.”
Biden’s speech highlighted the Obama campaign’s emphasis on turning out Hispanic voters. Biden encouraged the crowd on Tuesday to use Colorado’s opportunity to vote early, and not to take an Obama victory for granted, despite positive polling and the recent endorsement of Gen. Colin Powell, the former secretary of state under George W. Bush.
“Polls and endorsements don’t determine the outcome of elections,” Biden said. “Votes determine the outcome of elections.”
A day before Biden’s speech, that theme was heard at a press conference held at the Rude Park Recreation Center in Denver, an early voting site.
At the press conference marking the first day of early voting, Peña said it was important for those voters to vote early because of this year’s massive Colorado ballot. Peña noted that Hispanics had swung elections in the past — most recently to George W. Bush in 2004, when Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Peña doesn’t believe that will happen again, adding that he believes about 70 percent of Colorado’s Hispanic voters favor Obama.
“Forget Joe the Plumber for a minute,” Peña said, arguing that Obama’s tax plan would give a tax break to 95 percent of the country, “and think of you, your family, and your friends.”