DAVENPORT, Iowa — Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is "consistently wrong" on U.S. manufacturing, painting him as someone who doesn't believe the sector is crucial to future U.S. economic success and as a proponent of outsourcing.
Seeking to frame the choice that voters could face in November, Biden used a speech in politically important Iowa to reject Romney's argument that his background as a business executive makes him better suited to turn around the economy than President Barack Obama.
Biden mocked Romney for allowing state contractors to set up call centers in India while he was Massachusetts governor, and said the Bain Capital private equity firm Romney once headed had shipped jobs overseas after acquiring companies in the 1990s.
"Mitt, thanks for the memories," Biden said with a laugh, referring to a South Carolina photo album factory that closed after Bain Capital bought it.
Biden said manufacturing was recovering under Obama, with 430,000 jobs added since January 2010, and that Romney had spent his career in business and politics undermining American workers with policies that favor the wealthy.
"Mitt Romney has been remarkably consistent – as an individual investor, a businessman, as governor of Massachusetts, and now as a candidate for president," Biden told supporters at PCT Engineered Systems, a growing Davenport firm that makes equipment for manufacturers. "And I respectfully suggest: consistently wrong."
Biden flew to western Iowa later Wednesday, stopping at the Boys Club of Sioux City to meet for about an hour with children during their after-school program. He urged the 7- to 18-year-old boys to go to college and told them, "You can be anything you want to be."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed Biden as "the junior campaigner in chief" and said the vice president's rhetoric would not help families afford higher food, gasoline and health insurance costs. Priebus said Biden's words also wouldn't change the fact that most Americans oppose the administration's signature health care law, which was the subject of several hours of oral arguments in the Supreme Court this week.
"With team Obama's Iowa poll numbers in the tank, it's clear why they are sending Vice President Biden to rally the troops," Priebus said on a conference call with reporters. "But after three years of failed policies, I don't think most Iowans will be impressed."
Romney's campaign said Biden was on the attack to cover for an administration "that has done more to devastate the middle class than any in modern history."
"Under President Obama's leadership, over 800,000 fewer Americans have a job, home prices have plummeted, and gas prices have hit record highs. With that kind of record, it's no surprise that the Obama White House has taken to attacking a proven job creator like Mitt Romney," spokeswoman Amanda Hennenberg said.
Biden's speech was his third in recent weeks in his role as Obama's chief surrogate, outlining the campaign's arguments for a possible general election fight against Romney. In Ohio, Biden chastised Republicans for opposing the auto bailout and in Florida he criticized GOP plans for changes to Social Security and Medicare. Biden's hard-hitting speeches allow Obama to appear to remain above the political fray.
The Obama campaign has tried to shore up support in Iowa, which it carried in 2008 and could need again in November. With polls showing Iowans split on the president and his policies, Obama's campaign has been reaching out to middle-class workers and touting manufacturing, the state's largest industry.
Obama stopped at a Cedar Rapids manufacturing firm the day after his State of the Union Address in January. Biden toured a high-tech engineering facility in Ames this month. That Biden showed up Wednesday in Davenport, a working-class city of 100,000 on the Illinois border, was no mistake. The city is filled with the type of moderate voters who will help decide the November general election.
Biden said Romney's decision as Massachusetts governor to veto a bill in 2004 that would have barred state contractors from outsourcing work allowed millions of dollars to flow to companies to run call centers in India. He touted the administration's call for tax incentives for companies that "insource" or return jobs to the U.S.
"It's one thing for a local company to outsource, but for a state government to outsource a call center ... denying folks in Massachusetts the jobs?" Biden said. "Is it any surprise that Massachusetts under Gov. Romney was losing manufacturing jobs twice as fast as the rest of the country?"
Associated Press writer Margery A. Beck in Sioux City, Iowa, contributed to this report.