Biden speech rallies voters at Penn State

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UNIVERSITY PARK -- "The reports of the death of the Democratic Party are premature," Vice President Joe Biden assured a Penn State University campus crowd Tuesday. "We're going to do just fine."

Hoping to fulfill that prediction, Mr. Biden and Obama administration allies are struggling to replicate the turnout of new and younger voters that helped propel them to victory two years ago. His appearance at Alumni Hall underscored that effort, as he reminded a crowd of about 1,000 of better days for his party.

"Your generation swept us into the White House," he told the mostly young crowd. He had been introduced by local speakers, including assistant football coach Jay Paterno, who reminded them, "I was there in 2008; I saw the long lines stretching in this building and downtown."

The Biden rally was a long-distance opening act to a coast-to-coast administration push to rekindle student enthusiasm for its goals and for the election of enough Democratic candidates to ward off Republican takeovers of one or both houses of Congress.

As Mr. Biden spoke, President Barack Obama was headed to the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin. Other administration officials fanned to campuses in Delaware, North Carolina and California, while the Democratic National Committee organized parties for the Obama event at other campuses across the country.

Amid a still-hobbled economy, Mr. Biden acknowledged the difficulty of their task. "An awful lot of Americans -- including you and some of your parents -- are angry, and they have good reason to be angry," he said. "Their anger is justified. Right now, their anger is directed, as it should be, to those who are in power -- that's me, that's the president."

But he quoted former Boston Mayor Kevin White, as he sought to portray the November balloting as a choice between parties rather than a referendum on tough times. "Don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative," he said. "Compare us to what will happen if we lose the House and Senate."

While acknowledging "a long way to go" to restore a robust economy, Mr. Biden said job numbers had begun to head in a positive direction. He courted the crowd with a litany of successful administration initiatives on issues including student loan reform and the freshly implemented health care legislation provision that will allow many young people to be covered by their parents' health insurance until age 26.

If the GOP does manage to capture Congress, he said, that agenda, "will come to a screeching halt."

He compared the administration policies with House Republicans' promises to cut spending and resist any reversal of the Bush administration's tax cuts for higher-income taxpayers.

If implemented, he said, the GOP program would add a trillion dollars to the national debt and result in what he characterized as ruinous cuts in areas including the environment, law enforcement and transportation.

"This is not your father's Republican Party," he said. "This is the Republican Tea Party.

"If we allow this to be a referendum on whether people are happy with where they are now, we will lose, and we will deserve to lose," he continued. "We have to do everything we can to make this a choice, an honest choice. The only thing that can allow them to win is our apathy and our anger."

Mr. Biden's overall message was a more upbeat version of the controversial tough-love exhortation he delivered the day before, when, during a New Hampshire campaign stop, he urged "our base constituency to stop whining and get out there and look at the alternatives."

As health care reform continues to receive tough reviews in polling results, Mr. Biden noted that many of those critical of the law think that it did not go far enough. "We're prepared to make better whatever needs to be made better," he said of the pivotal and controversial legislation.

Mr. Obama also had highlighted the renewed push for young voters in an interview with college journalists Monday, when he insisted: "You can't sit it out. You can't suddenly just check in once every 10 years or so on an exciting presidential election and then not pay attention during big midterm elections, where we have a real big choice between Democrats and Republicans."

The package of events was a subset of the multimillion-dollar effort by the DNC and Organizing for America -- the successor organization to the Obama grass-roots effort of the presidential campaign -- to attempt to mobilize as many as possible of the younger and first-time voters of 2008, who disproportionately supported the Democratic ticket.

That goal flies in the face of two historic trends: the tendency of the party in the White House to lose seats in a midterm election, and the related erosion of voter turnout in non-presidential years.

That Republicans will not concede campus voters was evident in the sunshine outside the building, as young Republicans proselytized their own version of political change. Rob Lockwood, a National College Republicans staff member, was one of several activists wearing T-shirts emblazoned "Red November," a reference to their goal of turning many congressional seats from blue to red in the looming election.

The recent George Washington University graduate said he was one of five full-time College Republican staffers helping to spread the group's message to students across Pennsylvania, one of five states at the top of its 2008 priority list. "We're getting a great response," he said.


Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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