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Biden whips up support for Merkley at Portland rally

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF KOIN NEWS 6 - Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd of about 1,000 people that returning U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley to the Senate would be a victory for the middle class. Biden campaigned for Merkley at a public rally and a Portland fundraising event.Vice President Joe Biden, in a speech both sobering and rousing, says Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley “gets it” in terms of economic issues.

Biden, on a campaign stop for Merkley in Portland, said there are politicians who say the right things on those issues.

“But when things get tough, they’re the ones who usually bend, they’re the ones who usually give in to special interests,” he told a cheering crowd Wednesday at the Oregon Convention Center.

“The thing about Jeff and Mary (Sorteberg, his wife) is that they don’t bend under pressure. They feel it, taste it, smell it. Jeff has not forgotten where he came from.”

Biden alluded to the Merkley family continuing to live in the same East Portland neighborhood even after Merkley’s election to the Senate in 2008. He likened Merkley’s father — a millwright in Southern Oregon when Merkley was born in 1956 — to his own father, a car salesman in Scranton, Pa.

Merkley was a champion of the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation, signed by President Barack Obama, that clamped new regulations on financial institutions and created a Consumer Finance Protection Bureau in the aftermath of the 2008 crash of financial markets.

Merkley also supports an increase in the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 per hour, and refinancing of student loans taken out before the federal government assumed responsibility for them in 2010.

“He’s exactly the kind of person to finish what Barack Obama and I started in 2008,” Biden says.

A sober assessment

But the crowd was silent as Biden talked about other economic issues. Despite the lowest unemployment rate in six years, more jobs and greatly reduced federal budget deficits, Biden says, “the middle class is still in trouble.”

While the United States has regained most of the wealth lost in the 2007-09 recession, he says, too much of it has gone to the top income tier.

He says it will be worse if Republicans win control of the Senate — they have had the House for four years — and pursue an agenda of greater tax cuts for high-income households and less federal spending on education, health care and health research.

"The reason they attack so much is that they don't have anything to say," he says.

Biden was in the Senate from Delaware 36 years before his election as vice president with Obama in 2008.

“We have a fundamental disagreement with the Republican Party, and this is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden says. “They’re not bad people, but we just have to clear them out of the way. We have to win. We have to win for the American people with a big margin — and send a big message.”

Biden was headed to Washington state, and he is making stops for other Democrats as the party fights to hold onto a majority in the Senate.

Neither he nor Merkley mentioned by name Merkley’s Republican opponent, Monica Wehby, a physician from Portland making her first bid for public office.

But Merkley said her policy positions draw directly from Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee; Karl Rove, Republican political strategist, and Charles and David Koch, the Wichita industrialists who have financed $3 million in independent TV ads against Merkley.

In his introduction of Biden, and in an earlier meeting with the Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group editorial board, Merkley outlined his priorities for a second term: Encourage the creation of more higher-paying jobs, boost educational opportunities and make college more affordable, and continue to work toward making the Senate more functional, despite rules allowing unlimited debate.

About 1,000 people turned out at the Oregon Convention Center for the rally, which mirrored a 2010 visit by President Barack Obama on behalf of Sen. Ron Wyden and John Kitzhaber’s third-term bid for governor.

Biden also appeared at a private fundraiser.

En route to the airport, Biden and Merkley stopped at the Portland ice cream store Salt & Straw, where Biden got a waffle cone with Double Fold Vanilla and Chocolate Graveyard.

Others boost Merkley

Among the speakers preceding Biden and Merkley were Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici.

“These leaders are contending against a bankrupt philosophy” that calls largely for self-reliance and shuns government help, says Hales.

As an 18-year House veteran, Blumenauer says the re-election of Merkley is his highest election priority, even above more Democrats to the U.S. House.

Bonamici is the only woman in Oregon’s congressional delegation, but she drew distinctions between Merkley and Wehby, the first woman Oregon Republicans have nominated for the U.S. Senate.

“Let me make it perfectly clear: It depends on the woman,” she says.

Among the points Bonamici made were Merkley’s support — and Wehby’s opposition — for required insurance coverage for contraceptives, more legal tools for women to ensure equal pay with men, and nondiscrimination in jobs based on sexual orientation.

Visit’s significance

Earlier Wednesday, Merkley said Biden’s visit lets him talk about Oregon issues.

“Any time we can get him to Oregon, it allows me to enhance the conversation about issues in our state that he should be concerned about,” Merkley says.

An example, Merkley says, is a need to expand career and vocational training to increase the number of workers who require advanced skills but not necessarily a college education. He has put in a congressional bill, modeled on Oregon’s 2011 legislation that has enabled more than 200 schools to obtain almost $14 million in grants for such programs.

“It can never hurt to get somebody to our state who is in a position to influence the president’s agenda, the ideas being put forward and the national conversation,” Merkley says.

Merkley spoke after the release of a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted by YouGov between Sept. 20 and Oct. 1. Counting “leaners,” the online sample of 1,508 voters had Merkley at 53 percent and Wehby at 39 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Wehby is scheduled to appear at the Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group editorial board on Oct. 16.

Her campaign spokesman, Dean Petrone, issued a statement tying Merkley to the policies of Biden and President Barack Obama: “Vice President Biden is the perfect pairing to Senator Merkley’s incoherent and very absent plan for solving Oregon’s economic woes. Together, they share President Obama’s agenda that continues us down a path of fewer jobs, higher costs, and less opportunity.”


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Adds quote from Biden; his stop at Salt & Straw. JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT