DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — Campaigning in one of the nation's key U.S. Senate contests, Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that keeping Democratic control of the chamber would "break the back of the hard right" and ease gridlock in Washington.
Biden said next week's choice between Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst for the open Senate seat in Iowa was critical to the outcome. If Braley wins and the Democrats maintain their majority, he said, the Republicans in Congress will be open to compromising with Democrats on issues such as raising the federal minimum wage.
"If that happens and it will, what's going to happen is it's going to break the back of the hard right," he said. "You are going to see many reasonable people in the Republican Party start to vote reasonably again. Not exactly like we do. But they are going to be open to the kind of compromise that's always allowed this nation to move forward."
Biden was the latest high-profile surrogate to visit Iowa as Braley, a four-term congressman, seeks a late surge in his tight race against Ernst. Hillary Clinton is coming Wednesday, and former President Bill Clinton will be in on Saturday. Biden was traveled to Rockford, Illinois, later Monday to campaign for Gov. Pat Quinn and other Democrats.
He warned that Republicans wouldn't have the backs of working people. "They don't come from where we come from. They don't get it. They don't understand how important it is," Biden said.
In Davenport, Biden addressed activists inside a banquet hall at Modern Woodmen Park, a minor league baseball stadium along the Mississippi River. He appeared with Braley and Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, who is trying to fend off a tough Republican challenge to win a fifth term.
Biden said he had struggled to negotiate compromises with Republicans in the House and Senate over the last four years because the deals were not palatable to tea party members in those chambers. He said voters in America had consensus on many policies that were being blocked as a result.
"If we don't stop the march of the tea party now, those majority Republicans in the House and Senate who know better are never going to have the courage to stand up and vote the right way," he said.
Republicans need to gain six seats to control the Senate. Biden warned Democrats that, "if we lose, we're going to be pushed back another six or eight years." He said if tea party conservatives such as Ernst prevail, moderate Republicans "will be scared" to work with Democrats because they will fear primary challenges from the right.
Biden did not mention Ernst by name — calling her the "woman who is running against Bruce" — but he criticized the state senator's policy positions. He said her call for abolishing the Department of Education was a "bad idea." He also criticized Ernst for a comment in which she said Medicaid recipients "have no personal responsibility for their health care," saying the program helps struggling families afford care in nursing homes and treatment for disabled children.
"They don't have any responsibility?" he asked.
Ernst campaigned Monday in northeastern Iowa with U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley.
In a statement, Ernst spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said, "While Congressman Braley is hanging out with Obama administration officials at private events, Joni is traveling all 99 counties to meet undecided voters."