Eyeing the November election, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday called presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney "out of touch" and "out of step" with history and basic American values.
Biden also opened a new line of attack, introducing the "Romney rule" and contrasting it with President Barack Obama's push for the so-called "Buffet rule" to force rich people to pay more of their income in taxes.
The measure, named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, says the wealthy should not pay taxes at a lower rate than middle-class wage-earners. In contrast, Biden said Romney not only wants to make Bush-era tax cuts permanent but also would give the wealthy additional yearly tax cuts worth more than the annual income of a typical middle-class family.
"It amazes me. He offers this prescription as if it is somehow a new idea _ like it's something that we haven't seen," Biden said. "Folks, you've seen the movie. It doesn't end well. Where has he been? Could it be he's out of touch?"
Biden said Romney wants to take the nation down the same road that led to economic recession.
"It is true that the very top did very well, but the impact was our economy faltered, the middle class shrunk, the poor got poorer, and ultimately, the economy collapsed," he said.
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said Biden's speech made clear that the only campaign promise he and Obama are willing to keep is raising "taxes to fund their bloated spending and big government agenda."
New Hampshire voters "realize that this president has failed to create jobs and they are ready to replace him with a successful businessman like Mitt Romney who will turn around our economy," Williams said.
While stressing that he wasn't questioning Romney's patriotism, Biden also called Romney's economic views "out of step with basic American values" of rewarding hard work and ensuring that everyone follows the same rules.
"Gov. Romney calls the president out of touch," he said. "Hey, how many of y'all have a Swiss bank account? How many of you have somewhere between $20 and $100 million in your (retirement account)?"
The trip was Biden's third of the year to New Hampshire. Obama won the state in 2008 but it's expected to be heavily contested in November. His approval rating in the state, after hitting a low point in October, had rebounded to just above 50 percent in February, according to a WMUR Granite State Poll. The survey also found Obama ahead of Romney in a general election match-up.
As the general election campaign begins, Biden's comments have given voters a peek inside the Democratic playbook. He has delivered a series of hard-hitting campaign speeches in the past few weeks, branding Romney as "consistently wrong" and `'uninformed" on foreign policy, as someone aiming to "end Medicare as we know it" and as an advocate of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
While Obama largely avoids direct engagement, Biden is diving into the No. 2's traditional attack-dog role _ earlier and more aggressively than usual, some say _ with comments designed to singe Romney.
The Romney campaign hasn't let Biden's critiques go unchecked and has pushed back at specific statements and dredged up past Biden comments that cast Obama in a poor light. Before Biden's visit to New Hampshire, former Gov. John Sununu issued a tongue-in-cheek welcome on behalf of Romney's campaign.
"I don't agree with much of what Joe Biden says, but I completely agreed with him in 2007 when he said Barack Obama wasn't ready to be president. That was true then, and is still true today," Sununu said.
Ticket mates are typically expected to land the toughest blows in presidential politics. It lets the presidential nominee stay above the fray and focus on loftier goals and grand themes of their campaigns.
Biden had 36 years of Senate experience _ and two stunted presidential campaigns of his own _ when Obama selected him in 2008. He was seen as the seasoned hand to the relative newcomer Obama and a plain-spoken campaigner who could connect to blue-collar voters.
"We saw this four years ago, Joe Biden playing off Barack Obama's more cerebral, professorial, contemplative style," said University of Missouri professor Mitchell McKinney, a scholar of political rhetoric and presidential debates. "Biden has had that persona of shoot-from-the-lip and take-it-to-them sort of style."
At this stage of this campaign, Biden has no peer who can easily command attention and speak with the full weight of the campaign. Romney, who still lacks the needed delegates to rightfully call himself the GOP nominee, is probably months away from picking his own running mate.
President George W. Bush enjoyed a similar two-on-one advantage for many months of his second-term bid in 2004, with Vice President Dick Cheney at his disposal. Cheney publicly doubted Democratic nominee John Kerry's resolve on national defense, but didn't play a sustained role in criticizing the rival nominee this early on.
"If you go back and read a lot of the speeches, you will not find (Kerry's) name very much," said Sara Taylor Fagen, a Republican strategist and White House political adviser in Bush's administration. "It's a little surprising that they've gone so hard so fast. To some degree, you want to keep the president and the vice president elevated as long as possible."
Bakst reported from St. Paul, Minn.