Friday, July 1, 2011 | 2:08 p.m.
Vice President Joe Biden credits organized labor with helping him win a U.S. Senate seat and the vice presidency. Now he’s looking for Teamster support to return him and President Barack Obama to the White House in 2012.
Biden visited Las Vegas on Friday to speak to thousands of members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who gathered at Paris Las Vegas for their annual convention. Biden said his speech wasn’t supposed to be political but nevertheless warned, “Don’t come to me if you (vote Republican). You’re on your own, Jack.”
In fact, Biden’s speech was the definition of political. He ticked off a list of policies the Obama administration has fought for to help unions and strengthen the middle class and blasted GOP opposition as arrogant and elitist.
“Your logo is the horse’s head,” he told the Teamsters. “Their logo should be the other end.”
Biden said the GOP believes in concentrating power and wealth in the hands of a chosen few, while Democrats support opportunity for all. He warned the Teamsters that Republicans had launched the most direct assault on unions since the 1920s.
“They think you don’t even know what’s in your best interests. They’ve convinced themselves they know best. You’re the only thing that stands between the barbarians at the gate and them taking over,” Biden said.
Biden was clearly trying to parlay his popularity with labor into support for his and Obama’s 2012 campaign. They’ll need it: The administration has faltered in polls recently, both in Nevada and nationwide.
A Magellan poll released last week showed 53 percent of Nevadans were unhappy with Obama’s tenure so far; 41 percent approved of the job he’s doing. That marks a significant, double-digit downturn against him since the beginning of the year.
Nevada will be a key battleground state in 2012 as both parties fight for its six electoral votes. Obama’s poll numbers show he could have a harder time winning the state than he did in 2008.
The president’s problems here are two-fold, analysts say. He polls poorly among independents, a key constituency, and Republicans are more united in their disapproval of him than Democrats are in their approval. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has consistently led Obama in state polls and could be a far more formidable opponent than John McCain was last cycle.
Nationally, Obama’s approval rating hovers below 50 percent. Forty-seven percent of voters approve of the way he has handled his job, while 44 percent disapprove, a CBS News/New York Times poll released this week found. On the economy, 39 percent think the president is doing a good job (although few blame him for the country’s fiscal woes.)
Biden hopes that the unions’ power can help bridge the administration’s popularity gap.
“We can’t lose this war,” Biden urged. “The middle class can’t afford to lose it, the country can’t afford to lose it. We’ve been working like the devil to pass laws that protect you.”
Biden reminded the crowd that Obama has fought against union busting, supported prevailing wages and required “buy American” provisions in the Recovery Act. The federal stimulus saved 3.5 million jobs, he said, while the government’s bailout of the auto industry kept a million people working.
By comparison, Republicans are fighting to protect tax breaks for the wealthy, Biden said. In 2010, the country’s top 25 hedge fund managers made $22 billion in personal income and paid 15 percent in taxes, the vice president said. Most middle-class citizens paid 26 percent in taxes.
“I don’t care if they make a lot of money, but they should be paying their fair taxes,” he said. “Why should they pay 10 percent less than you? That’s a $20 billion loss to the Treasury.”
“This is about jobs — jobs you can raise a family on.”
Audience members rose to their feet. Biden’s voice grew louder. Patriotic music piped into the room.
“We will restore America, so help me God,” Biden shouted into the microphone as he exited the stage. The Teamsters cheered.