November 3, 2008 / 9:21 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Joe 'O'Biden' plays up working-class, Catholic roots

(Adds Biden comments)

By Sue Pleming

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Nov 3 (Reuters) - Dashing across battleground states in the final race to Tuesday’s polls, Joe Biden never fails to bring up his working-class, Irish Roman Catholic roots and the hard times his family faced.

Biden grew up in a tough part of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the Democratic ticket counts on his life story to reach blue-collar workers in traditionally Republican areas where U.S. President George W. Bush clinched the 2004 election.

Over the past few days, his campaign bus has crisscrossed Ohio and Indiana, a state that last voted for a Democrat in 1964, and he has also made a push in Florida.

Biden said on Monday he felt “something in the air” in the Republican strongholds he was stumping in recent days and while superstitious, he was optimistic about Tuesday’s outcome.

“We were in Republican, Republican territory. There is some energy there,” he told reporters traveling with him after a rally in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “There is pace on the ball.”

He told reporters he thought the Democrats could win in Pennsylvania but was reluctant to make predictions about Ohio, Indiana or Missouri, saying those races were too tight.

Underlining the tightness of the race, Biden went on to Ohio and was set to go to Pennsylvania, asking undecided voters to deliver the presidency to Barack Obama.

At each rally, Biden recalls in hushed tones how his family fell on hard times and, when he was 10, his father walked into his bedroom to tell him they had to give up their house and move to Delaware to find work.

He then brings the story back to the present, when home foreclosures are at record levels and parents must break the same news to their children.

“Too many people are hanging on the edge right now,” Biden told supporters at Lee’s Summit.

On the rope lines, supporters tell of losing jobs, fears over health care and how they will put food on the table.

“We need to get out of this slump that we are in,” said Asen Kristoff of Dayton, Ohio. “People are really hurting here, especially blue-collar workers,” he added, pointing out that General Motors had announced plant closures in the area.

JOE O’BIDEN

Obama draws tens of thousands of supporters, but Biden’s rallies have several thousand people at most and are often in school gyms or university fields.

Biden, 65, chides supporters when they boo his opponents, but then pokes fun at Republican candidate John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin for calling themselves “mavericks.”

“You can’t call yourself a maverick when all you have been the last eight years is a sidekick to President George W. Bush,” is one of his favorite applause lines.

McCain himself has called Biden “the gift that keeps on giving” for his occasional gaffes.

McCain told a Tampa, Florida, rally on Monday that Biden’s statement that U.S. enemies would “test” a President Obama within six months of taking office underlined McCain’s argument that the Democrat is not ready to be commander-in-chief.

Biden says he is very disappointed in McCain over his personal attacks and accused the Arizona senator on Monday of being a “go it alone guy” on foreign policy.

“John is a guy who lectures our European friends.”

Biden plays up his Irish Catholic roots and sprinkles speeches with “God love you” and “God bless you.” He relishes showing Ohio crowds a T-shirt with the slogan: “O’bama, O’Biden, O’hio, O’8.”

“I’m Joe O’Biden,” he crows to the crowd.

Catholics have been swing voters for decades and if elected, Biden would be the first Catholic U.S. vice president. John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic U.S. president. (Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Tampa; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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