EUCLID, Ohio -- Vice President Joe Biden told a union crowd here that the defeat of Issue 2 last week was the voice of the middle class fighting back against attempts to make them pay for the recession.
"Folks, you fired the first shot. It's not about Barack Obama. It's not about Joe Biden. It's about whether or not middle-class people will be put back in the saddle because they're the ones that make America move," Mr. Biden said.
The vice president spoke in a Euclid fire station with half a dozen firefighters on the platform behind him, along with one of Euclid's fire trucks.
Although the vice president's speech was billed as the first official political event of the 2012 election cycle in Ohio -- a must-win state for any presidential candidate --his message wasn't much different than it has been in previous speeches in Ohio, that the American middle-class dream is in trouble. He made only a brief mention of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, one in a crowded field of GOP contenders.
Mr. Biden said the defeat of Issue 2, also known as Senate Bill 5 -- a measure seeking to undercut collective-bargaining power of Ohio public-sector unions -- was a victory not just for labor but for the middle class. "This was not just a fight about collective bargaining. It was about respecting teachers … cops on the beat who risk their lives … firefighters, and the extraordinary courage they show every day," Mr. Biden said.
"This isn't about labor; this is about giving the middle class a fighting chance," he said, his voice modulating from a near whisper at times to a shout.
The vice president devoted much of his speech to trying to put pressure on Republicans to pass a bill proposed by President Obama to create 2 million jobs.
He said Issue 2 was an attempt to make workers pay for the misdeeds of financiers who caused the Great Recession.
"It's as if the middle class ... brought this upon themselves," Mr. Biden said.
The vice president said Republicans in the House of Representatives are planning more anti-labor legislation, such as to do away with prevailing-wage laws, workplace-safety laws, the Department of Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
About 500 people were jammed into the fire station. Democratic city Councilman Madeline Scarniench said the station was still in service and that most of the equipment had been moved to the street to be able to respond to a fire call if necessary.
Euclid, a city of about 49,000, once had a population closer to 75,000 and is a heavily Democratic enclave on Lake Erie east of Cleveland. Of the nine-person council, one is a Republican and the rest are Democrats.
The vice president brought a number of labor leaders with him, including those from the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Ironworkers union. Among those present was Mark Sobczak of Toledo, vice president of Teamsters Local 20.
Mark Sanders, a Cincinnati firefighter and president of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, said he believes the fight over Issue 2 changed the thinking of some firefighters. He said the association's national membership is about 43 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat, and the rest independent.
"I think it's refocused our members on what's important to them in an election to be more cognizant of those issues that protect them at work versus those that affect them in their personal lives," Mr. Sanders said.
Issue 2 was a referendum to pass Senate Bill 5, a bill enacted by Republican lawmakers and signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich that would have scaled back the power of unions representing police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other public employees in collective bargaining with local and state governments. The referendum was defeated by about 61-39 percent.
Republicans issued a statement pointing out that in the same election Ohio voters overwhelmingly passed Issue 3, an amendment allowing Ohio to opt out of the individual insurance mandate in President Obama's signature legislation, national health care.
Issue 3 amounted to a rejection of what Republicans call ObamaCare. Some believe the amendment was so little discussed during the campaign before the vote Nov. 8 that many people did not realize its purpose, but Mr. Biden did not make that argument during a news conference with reporters after the speech.
He said the passage of Issue 3 proves that in defeating Issue 2 voters were rejecting an attack on fairness without regard to partisanship.
"This was not a Democratic or just a union groundswell. If that were the case, they would have voted down the mandatory provision in the health-care bill," Mr. Biden said. "That's what makes this such a powerful statement."
Still, he said he believes that when the individual mandate is taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court next year, it will be upheld as constitutional.
The Ohio Republican Party released a statement by Chairman Kevin DeWine saying, "The location of Joe Biden's campaign rally is fitting, because just one week ago more than 202,000 Cuyahoga County voters overwhelming rejected Joe Biden and [U.S. Sen. ] Sherrod Brown's support of job-crushing, individual health-care mandates."
Mr. DeWine said Mr. Biden should hand-deliver a copy of the Health-care Freedom Amendment to the President as an example of how the President's policies are resonating in Ohio.
Republicans also noted that Mr. Brown and other prominent Democrats were not on the stage with Mr. Biden. He was joined on the trip by Hilda Solis, the secretary of labor.
Asked whether there was any question in his mind that he would be on the ticket next year with President Obama, he said, "not a single question," adding in a joking manner, "whether I want to be, that may be a different issue."
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.