ZANESVILLE, OHIO — Unlike his Republican rival for the vice presidency, it cannot be said that Sen. Joe Biden finds himself in an unexpected place.
Biden began his political life 35 years ago, nearly at the top. Elected to the U.S. Senate at 29, he has remained there since, seemingly content, with the exception of two flirtations with the presidency 20 years apart.
In 1988, he was a contender. But his candidacy sank under the weight of scandal -- borrowed quotes, temperament issues, etc. He believed when he tossed his hat into the ring this time, he was scandal-proof. He may have been, but he was not Barack Obama-proof, nor Hillary Rodham Clinton-proof, nor even John Edwards-proof.
Nor, as it happened, gaffe-proof. In an interview to announce his presidential quest, Biden called Obama "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean."
But Obama forgave him. And eight months after a fifth-place finish in Iowa, Biden, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, became Obama's running mate.
Monday, Biden began his day in Missouri and made three stops in Ohio, including an unscheduled visit with volunteers in New Philadelphia, before finishing with a rally in Pennsylvania, in what he jokingly called "Old Philadelphia."
The Biden campaigning for vice president is an altered version of the man who sought the presidency. He is no longer the voluble, poetic statesman given to quoting Seamus Heaney and pushing a plan to split Iraq in three. His speeches are compact, punchy and, of course, Obama-centric.
Late in the afternoon of a flawless day, Biden addressed a small crowd in Zanesville, an Ohio city that has seen better times. He spoke for a crisp 19 minutes, mostly about the economy, jobs and the meltdown on Wall Street.
"Haven't you been impressed by how steady and steely Barack Obama has been in this crisis and how unsteady John McCain has been, lurching back and forth?" he asked. "We need more than a brave soldier. We need a wise leader."
An Obama administration will have two priorities, he said: "No. 1, we will spend every waking hour of our administration, and I promise you this, restoring the middle class in America. . . . Second . . . we will once again restore America's respect in the world. The first step is to end this war in Iraq. And we will do it responsibly."
He also implicitly cautioned against overconfidence. But supporters, familiar with polls that show Obama ahead in their state, were buoyant. A woman handing out Obama signs wore a T-shirt that captured the mood: "Yes, we did."