Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the White House’s preferred emissary to the Rust Belt, swept into his political sweet zone on Thursday, touting the administration’s economic record to a spirited gathering at the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall. He talked up the American auto industry, praised President Obama’s convictions and criticized the Republican presidential candidates by name — repeatedly — accusing them of being “about protecting the privileged sector.”

“I am laying out a clear and stark difference between us and our opponents,” Mr. Biden said before a friendly crowd of about 500, many of them employees of a Jeep plant, among this northwest Ohio city’s biggest employers.

Mr. Biden’s drop-in to this electorally vital area was billed as a first salvo in a more formal phase of the 2012 presidential campaign. While the re-election effort started months ago — with both Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden appearing at multiple fund-raisers and campaignlike events — the vice president’s visit here was the first stump stop that the White House called an official campaign event. Mr. Obama was speaking at the same time in Maryland, defending his energy policies at a rally in often spirited and sometimes sarcastic tones against unnamed Republicans who are promising to bring down gas prices.

Continue reading →