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In small town Ohio, a heavy dose of Biden

September 09, 2012|By Michael Memoli

ATHENS, Ohio – If you want an example of how Joe Biden can campaign in a way that his running mate cannot, look no further than his opening remarks at a campaign stop here Saturday.

“The last time I was here … I didn’t get arrested, but I almost did,” the vice president said to a jovial crowd at a jam-packed community center.

He was referring to the time in 1963 when, as a member of the University of Delaware football team, he came to the campus of Ohio University for a game. The Blue Hens beat the Bobcats 29-12, Biden recalled.

One night during that trip, Biden “got invited into a dorm” – a women’s dorm. That was a no-no at the time.

“I thought I was walking into the waiting room. I got brought into the hallway. And I got escorted out very quickly by an Athens policeman. True story, unfortunately,” Biden recalled.

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Biden actually told a version of that same story four years ago when he came to Athens as a vice presidential candidate. The version then was a bit more detailed, including that the invitation was from “two young women” and that “it was only a temporary detention.”

The seemingly politically incorrect story, though, was just one example of how Biden on the trail can get far more hands-on with voters than President Obama. Better still was the hour or so he spent shaking hands, taking photos, and even fending off a groupie at Cardo’s, a pizza buffet in the small town of Jackson, Ohio.

There were only a handful of patrons when he arrived around dinnertime. But word got out fast in the small town, and the vice president seemed to thrive on the retail politicking opportunity – even though a good number in the crowd professed to be Democrats.

Sure, the president had his own stop at a Florida sports bar to press the flesh, and actually stayed there longer than Biden did at Cardo’s. But it’s likely he didn’t have an encounter like the one Biden had with Jan Queen.

"I told him he was so handsome, so good looking, that I was not going to let go of him, and he is better looking off camera than he is on,” Queen, 74, shared after the extended, personal encounter.

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"Will you write a note to my wife and tell her that?" Biden told her.

Biden had three such local stops Saturday, including a stop at a Dairy Queen – where he ordered his usual vanilla-chocolate swirl – and a visit to the campaign’s field office in Chillicothe.

But Jackson was the longest of the day, and resulted in the most potential voter contacts. The campaign sees such campaigning as Biden’s strength, resulting in personal stories that can be shared organically, like of him grabbing a person’s phone to talk to their friend at home, or donating $20 to a bake sale to raise money for diabetes research, or handing a challenge coin bearing the vice presidential seal to a man celebrating his 62nd birthday.

That doesn’t guarantee votes, however. John Moore, who owned the pizza shop, was thrilled to have the special guest at his restaurant. But while he said he supported the office of the president, he wasn’t a fan of the current occupant.

Asked why, he said: "Pro-life. Period.” That said, he added that he was “uninspired” by the Republican alternative, Mitt Romney.

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michael.memoli@latimes.com

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