Vice President Joe Biden is basking in the political limelight.
Of all the speakers at the party conventions, it was Biden – not President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Bill Clinton, or Clint Eastwood – who drew the largest TV audience this year, according to Nielsen.
But look past the vice president’s reputation for candor, past the campaign photos with bikers and diners, and there’s one notable thing he’s not doing much of in the public eye these days: fielding questions from reporters. That’s not by accident.
Biden was notably self-disciplined Tuesday when reporters asked him about the newly released video of Romney saying his job is “not to worry about" the 47 percent of Americans who don't earn enough to pay income taxes and are likely Obama supporters.
“His words speak for themselves,” Biden responded as he was shaking hands at the rope line in Ottumwa, Iowa.
“I don’t have any comment guys,” he said later as he exited Smokey Row coffee shop in Oskaloosa, laughing at their persistence.
Biden, the exuberant, loose-talking sidekick to a cerebral commander-in-chief, has been on a tight leash since his May interview on "Meet the Press" when he contradicted the president by saying he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, compelling President Obama to do the same.
The vice president has made no Sunday show appearances since then and his last one-on-one television interview with a local affiliate occurred in June, according to a search of public databases, (the campaign did not respond to a question on whether this was his most recent TV interview). Nor has Biden been holding media avails on the campaign trail, so his full-time traveling press corp resorted to throwing questions when he was within earshot on Tuesday.
By contrast, according to the Romney campaign, Ryan has given 133 total one-on-one interviews since being named Romney’s running mate in August: eight print, eight radio, and 117 television interviews – most of them local, but also two Sunday shows, all five evening news anchors, and three broadcast morning shows.
When asked for a similar tally, the vice president’s office and the Obama for America campaign did not provide one. But OFA did issue a response to critics who say that the noticeable drop off in one-on-one interviews are part of the Biden team’s effort to curb opportunities for blunders.
“Day after day, event after event, the vice president has been traveling across the country all year and is readily accessible to both voters and members of the media on the campaign trail,” said spokesman Lis Smith. “He's a tremendous asset for the campaign and no one has been fighting harder to make the case for President Obama's re-election this November.”
The vice president’s staff gave New York Magazine an unusual amount of access in August, during which Biden made a gaffe in Danville, Va. warning the crowd that Romney’s Wall Street would “put y’all back in chains.”
“Every once in a while, that bluntness and ebullience of Biden’s skids off in a direction that makes you say, ‘I wonder what that was about?’” Obama campaign senior advisor David Axelrod told the magazine. “But in a business full of blow-dried automatons, he’s a vivid, authentic human being. He’s proven himself in really substantive ways, and he’s so good out there [on the campaign trail] that I’ll gladly take the downsides for the upsides.”
Tuesday evening on his way home to DC, the vice president trotted to the back of Air Force Two to thank reporters for putting up with the bumpy van rides across Iowa.
“And no, I’m not commenting on Romney,” Biden delightfully added. "Somebody filed a story saying, essentially saying, ‘Biden hadn't said anything.’”
He beamed. “And he’s not going to.”
"How come?" asked Reid Epstein of Politico.
"There will be plenty of time, we'll let his statements speak for themselves for now,” the vice president responded.