Vice President Joe Biden at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry… (Steve Pope / Getty Images )
INDIANOLA, Iowa — Vice President Joe Biden affixed himself to President Obama's record Sunday in a possible nod toward a third White House bid, saying the middle-class recovery would be the bellwether for the administration's success.
Speaking at an annual political gathering that draws the state's Democratic stalwarts, Biden repeatedly cited what he called his "seamless" partnership with Obama, accentuating an aspect of his resume that didn't exist in 1988 and 2008, when he previously sought the presidency.
When he was selected to join the 2008 presidential ticket, Biden said, he asked Obama "only one question. Was he committed, as he said he was, to rebuilding the middle class?"
"I also told him there are two things I would not do as vice president — I wouldn't wear any funny hats and I wouldn't change my brand," he said. "And I've kept my promise [and] he kept his."
Biden credited Obama's leadership on the world stage for an accord between the U.S. and Russia aimed at eliminating Syria's chemical weapons. The deal sets a timetable for Syria's disarmament, puts off the prospect of punitive U.S. airstrikes, and brings the United Nations into the process.
"He in fact is the reason why the world community is facing up finally to this hideous prospect of this largest stockpile in the world of chemical weapons being confiscated and destroyed," Biden said. "Obviously every president will reserve the right to act alone if American interests are at stake. But we know, he knows, we are much stronger when we act in concert with our allies in the international community."
Biden also made what could be interpreted as a subtle jab at former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who would be his main rival for the 2016 Democratic nomination if she decides to run. He praised her successor, John F. Kerry, as "one of the best secretaries of State" in history.
Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry fundraiser, now in its 36th year, has become a ritual for Iowa Democrats and an irresistible lure for national Democrats looking to gain a foothold in the early nominating state.
Biden's presence was seen as the strongest indication yet of his interest in a third presidential campaign. Biden insisted he attended only because his former Senate colleague had repeatedly invited him.
Tom Miller, Iowa's long-serving attorney general, said Biden hadn't talked to him about a campaign, though some activists have heard from him since the last election. Biden's experience would be his main selling point if he decided to run, Miller said.
That's why Linda Fisher of Coralville wore a Biden 2016 button to the steak fry. A party stalwart, Fisher said she had backed Biden in his two previous White House bids, when he was a U.S. senator from Delaware.
"I really think this is one of the most well-qualified people we've ever had in government," she said.
Ted Herrick of Jefferson said he wanted to "see the field broaden beyond Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden."
"I don't know if he'll run or if his age would be a hindrance," Herrick said. The vice president turns 71 in November.
Joining Biden on the stage at the Warren County Fairgrounds was San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the Democrats' 2012 convention keynote speaker. Harkin indicated that the contrast between one of the party's rising stars and the veteran vice president was intentional.
Biden, he told the crowd, "embodies the enormous experience, wisdom and sound judgment" of the party while Castro, 38, represents new energy and ideas and a broadening of the Democratic constituency.
"We need both — the new and the seasoned," he said. "This is a great strength that we have as Democrats."