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UPDATE 1-Biden: U.S. middle class 'buried the last four years'

(Inserts comment from Obama-Biden campaign, paragraphs 7-8)

WASHINGTON, Oct 2 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a campaign rally on Tuesday that the middle class has been buried for the past four years, just longer than President Barack Obama's time in the White House.

Republicans immediately seized on what they termed a "stunning admission" by Biden as evidence that Obama's policies have been bad for the economy, the day before Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney meet in their first presidential debate.

Discussing what the Obama campaign contends are Romney's plans to raise taxes on most Americans to fund tax cuts for the wealthy, Biden made his comment in an emotional speech to a crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"This is deadly earnest. How they can justify ... raising taxes on the middle class that has been buried the last four years? How in the Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes and these tax cuts?" he asked.

Voters say the struggling U.S. economy is the most important issue in the election, and Obama's Democrats and Romney's Republicans have been jockeying over who would be better economic stewards for average Americans.

"Under President Obama, the middle class has suffered from crushing unemployment, rising prices and falling incomes," Amanda Henneberg, a Romney spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Obama-Biden campaign said Biden was making the case that Romney's policies would be a return to Republican economic ideas that failed in the past.

"As the vice president has been saying all year and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed (former President George W.) Bush policies that crashed our economy - and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies," an aide said.

The U.S. presidential election is Nov. 6.

(Reporting By Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Stacey Joyce)

((patricia.zengerle@thomsonreuters.com,

Messaging: patricia.zengerle.reuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: USA CAMPAIGN/BIDEN