KITTERY, Maine — Vice President Joe Biden addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery on Wednesday morning, throwing political star power behind a slate of Democratic candidates in both Maine and New Hampshire.
Biden was accompanied on the stage by Maine gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud and 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, as well as two members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
The visit may have aimed to boost Biden’s own political ambitions as well, as his boss, President Barack Obama, is serving his second and final term in office and nearby New Hampshire will hold the first of the 2016 presidential primaries in about 16 months.
Biden offered a bombastic condemnation of the Islamic State — often known by the acronym ISIS — which on Tuesday released video of its second purported beheading of an American journalist. He also talked about what he called the U.S. resurgence as a manufacturing leader and energy producer, and the need to grow the American middle class.
“[ISIS victim Steven Sotloff] put his life on the line as a journalist to tell the stories of the Syrian people,” he boomed. “When these barbarians replicated what they did with [previous victim James Foley], they somehow think it’s going to lessen U.S. resolve, frighten or intimidate us. But if they think the American people are going to be intimidated, they don’t know us very well. We came back after 9-11, we dusted ourselves off and made sure Osama bin Laden would never hurt us again.
“We will follow them to the gates of Hell until we bring them to justice, because Hell is where they will reside,” Biden continued.
The four Maine and New Hampshire politicians who spoke at the shipyard on Wednesday morning are running to retain or get a new office, and all heaped praise upon the dense crowd of shipbuilders packing the cavernous structural shop at the historic Navy facility.
“I’ve traveled a million miles around the world as vice president and I traveled a million miles before that,” said Biden, who toured the shipyard before taking the stage, “and the fact of the matter is you’re the best in the world. It’s true.”
Said Pingree: “This is world-class work that you do, and everyone knows it.”
The limited polling available shows Pingree as a heavy favorite to hang onto her House seat, holding a double-digit lead over young Gorham Republican Isaac Misiuk. Pingree also faces a second challenger in Libertarian-leaning independent Richard Murphy from Sanford.
Michaud, whose campaign boasted a visit by popular former President Bill Clinton less than a day earlier, is a six-term congressman trying to best incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler in a race for the Blaine House.
Shaheen faces a hotly contested re-election campaign against former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, while Shea-Porter will likely battle former Manchester mayor and U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta for the third straight election cycle.
Guinta is holding a huge lead in the polls over Portsmouth businessman Dan Innis heading into next week’s Republican primary.
None of the candidates went on the offensive Wednesday morning, instead using the forum to play up their own initiatives and pledge support for continued federal investments in the shipyard and surrounding area.
Shaheen said any proposal for another round of military base closures — which in the past shut down Brunswick Naval Air Station, Loring Air Force Base in Limestone and Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, and threatened to claim Portsmouth Naval Shipyard itself — would never make it past the Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee on readiness that she chairs.
Pingree said she planned to urge Biden and the administration to support a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to replace the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, which carries Route 1 and a railroad line from Kittery to Portsmouth and is considered an important supply pipeline for the shipyard.
Michaud reiterated his support of a higher federal minimum wage, which Obama has argued should be bumped up from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.
He also highlighted his efforts to require U.S. service members to wear entirely American-made clothing, a measure he has long hoped will benefit Maine’s New Balance sneaker company.
“I believe that Maine manufacturers are among the finest in the world. They just need a level playing field,” Michaud said. “We have three New Balance facilities in the state of Maine, and if they get that contract, that could mean as many as 200 jobs supplying our soldiers with what they need.”
Biden piggybacked on the message of restoring manufacturing and other high-paying jobs in America, saying companies that previously outsourced jobs to other countries are now reconsidering those moves and, in some cases, moving back.
“All the studies show that American workers are three times as productive as Chinese workers. That’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact,” he said.
The vice president also said the country needs to invest in workforce training, making higher education more accessible and dispersing corporate profits to the middle class. He said the country is expected to add thousands of jobs in the information technology, petroleum, renewable energy, health care and manufacturing industries in the coming years.
“If you are responsible for the profit your corporation made, you as workers should have the opportunity to share in the benefits, share in the profits. That’s how we did business until relatively recently. That’s how we built the middle class,” Biden said, adding, “The middle class is the fabric that stitches this country together like none other in the world. … When the middle class is doing well, everybody does well. The wealthy get very wealthy and the poor have a way out.”