By Kay Henderson
DES MOINES (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden apologized on Wednesday for referring to people who squeeze U.S. military personnel serving overseas on loans and other financial issues as "Shylocks," a reference to a stereotypical Jewish character in Shakespeare.
Biden apologized for having used the term during a speech on Tuesday in Washington, calling it a "poor choice of words." His remark had drawn a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League. The group thanked Biden for the apology on Wednesday.
Shylock is the Jewish moneylender in the William Shakespeare play 'The Merchant of Venice' who demands a pound of flesh from a merchant after he defaults on a debt.
"Clearly there was no ill-intent here, but Joe and I agreed that perhaps he needs to bone up on his Shakespeare," ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said after talking to Biden by telephone.
The controversy came as Biden made a trip to Iowa in what political analysts said showed his interest in a potential run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Biden is at the top of a group of powerful politicians who could make a credible 2016 run if Hillary Clinton decides not to seek the presidency. That group also includes Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
A few people in the crowd of about 250 wore turquoise T-shirts with the word "Ready" in white, showing their support for Hillary Clinton.
Biden spoke at a kickoff event in Des Moines for a tour by "Nuns on the Bus," a liberal organization that highlights what it calls the distorting impact of large, unlimited donations to political campaigns.
Biden emphasized populist economic themes in his remarks.
"It's time for a fair tax structure, one that values paychecks as much as earned income and clipping dividends," Biden said, to applause. "One that values hard work as much as inherited wealth."
Biden said America was better positioned to lead than any time in the last 35 years, but "we've got to deal the middle class back in."
Iowa holds the first contest in the 2016 Democratic nominating campaign. Biden's trip comes days after Clinton made a splash at a Democratic fund-raising event sponsored by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.
"She was sending a signal and I think Joe Biden is too," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
Biden has deep roots in Iowa after unsuccessful runs for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008, and his consideration of a 2016 run is well known. But it is not lost on anyone at the White House that his path to the Democratic nomination is decidedly uphill should Clinton run.
As White House officials see it, Biden is a viable potential candidate with broad foreign policy knowledge who is held in deep respect by President Barack Obama, but most do not envision him challenging Clinton for the nomination.
The polls bear this out. A Reuters-Ipsos poll from May found 52 percent of Americans would vote for Clinton in 2016, compared with 9 percent for Biden.
"Looking toward 2016, Biden's position is only tenable in Clinton's absence," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Andre Grenon)