Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd of about 100 Democrats at the Henderson Convention Center Wednesday that congressional candidate Erin Bilbray won’t forget her promises to uphold middle-class values if voters elect her to replace incumbent Republican Rep. Joe Heck.
“This woman will not forget you. She will not forget her promises,” Biden told the crowd at the end of his remarks.
Biden said he’s been asked to campaign in about 200 races across the country for the 2014 cycle, but prefers contests in which candidates’s beliefs “start in their gut and go to their heart.” Bilbray, he assured the crowd, is such a candidate.
“It’s in her bones. It’s stamped in her DNA,” Biden said.
The vice president referred repeatedly to the middle class in his remarks, echoing a theme that Bilbray herself has tried to assert as a reason to unseat two-term congressman Heck. “There’s an awful lot at stake in this election. It’s the middle class, the middle class is at stake.”
But don’t consider that a slam on Heck. Biden made it clear that he’s sick of personal attacks in politics, and outlined the route to success as simply distinguishing Democratic beliefs from Republican ones.
Democrats, for example, passed health care reform and supporting continuing Medicare in its present form, while Republicans opposed (and have repeatedly tried to repeal) the Affordable Care Act and proposed replacing Medicare with a voucher system. The Republican budget — known as the Ryan budget for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — proposes tax cuts for more well-off Americans, cuts to research dollars and education budgets. Democrats oppose all of that, Biden said.
He also lamented an era in Washington of continued fighting, without resolution. “In order to get anything done, there has to be a consensus,” Biden said. “Democrats and Republicans used to believe that finding a consensus, a solution, was what they got paid to do.”
“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said. “This is not Paul Laxalt.”
Laxalt is a former governor and U.S. senator from Nevada and contemporary of President Ronald Reagan, whom Biden doubted publicly could get elected in a GOP primary today. Claiming Laxalt’s legacy and attaching it to Bilbray’s campaign was a nice touch.
Republicans scoffed at the campaign event, noting that national Democratic campaign planners have failed to reserve TV time for Bilbray’s race on local stations. They characterized the vice presidential visit as a consolation prize.
“Erin Bilbray’s campaign is in such bad shape that Washington Democrats have completely given up on her,” said Tyler Q. Holton, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Instead of spending money on Bilbray’s behalf, Democrats have sent her gaffe-prone Joe Biden in a sad attempt to salvage her faltering campaign.”
The vice president largely avoiding criticizing Heck directly on issues, save for two instances: First, he noted Heck voted for the Ryan budget in 2011, but voted against it in 2013, saying it hurt Nevada interests. But he voted for the budget again this year, Biden said. “How do you explain that?” Biden asked.
And Biden criticized Heck for his stance on immigration reform. Although Heck has said he supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, he’s refused to support a bi-partisan Senate version of reform, saying he has problems with some details. Bilbray has called on Heck to sign a discharge petition that would get the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote.
“It’s [immigration reform] not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” Biden said. “Erin’s opponent pretends to be with the American people on this issue, but he’s part of the Republican bloc. He votes with the Republican bloc.”
But that criticism wasn’t enough for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which wants President Barack Obama to grant administrative relief to illegal immigrants facing deportation. The group noted that Biden spoke just across the street from the Henderson detention center, which houses federal prisoners awaiting deportation.
“The Henderson Detention Center is a short walk from the Convention Center where Vice President Biden spoke, and it is where hundreds of immigrants, including my father, have been held,” said Astrid Silva, PLAN organizer. “That’s why it is both surprising and disappointing that the vice president gave only a few seconds of his time to talk about immigration reform and mentioned absolutely nothing about the administrative relief the Obama administration promised next month.
“We hope that the White House hasn’t given up on keeping families together in the same way the House of Representatives has,” Silva added. “We will continue to keep up the pressure until the Obama administration fulfills their promise to end senseless deportations.”
For her part, Bilbray painted herself as the child of middle-class Las Vegas, someone who would bring those values to Washington, D.C.
“I love this community and I will fight for this community. This is going to be a huge battle and I need every one of you,” Bilbray added. “They are going to throw so many arrows at me that they’re going to block out the sun. … This Nevada desert woman knows how to fight in the shade.”
Bilbray mentioned several specific issues, including the recent Hobby Lobby decision, with which she disagrees. (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a closely held corporation could assert its rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to refuse to provide certain kinds of contraception to female employees.) Heck called the ruling “reasonable,” after it was issued.
“After 12 years of Catholic education, I never once heard that a corporation had a soul,” Bilbray said.