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Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden returned to his home state on Tuesday to help Democrats win over working-class voters in a tight contest for a House seat in Pennsylvania's Trump country.
In two campaign rallies, the ex-senator from Delaware aimed to drum up enthusiasm for 33-year-old Conor Lamb — the Democrat trying to pull off a victory in a district that President Donald Trump carried by 20 points in 2016.
Voters head to the polls a week from Tuesday in Pennsylvania's 18th District, which political observers around the country are watching as a measure of Democrats' ability to potentially gain a House majority in November's midterms.
Speaking to Lamb supporters outside of Pittsburgh, Biden praised the Marine veteran and former prosecutor's character, comparing Lamb to his late son, Beau. The former vice president cast Lamb as a champion for workers, saying he would protect labor unions and fight against possible cuts to Social Security and Medicare funding.
"It's always been about the other guy with Conor. Not just about him," Biden said at one campaign event with dozens of union members.
The race between Lamb and 60-year-old Republican state representative Rick Saccone appears neck-and-neck in the final stretch before voters head to the polls on March 13.
Polls in February showed Saccone with an edge of 3 or more percentage points, but an Emerson poll released Monday showed Lamb with a 3-percentage point advantage.
Saccone has positioned himself as a defender of Trump's agenda. He has pledged to cut regulations to support the energy industry in the southwest part of the state, praised the GOP tax cuts passed into law in December and pledged to control what he deems reckless government spending.
Biden is only one of the national Democratic figures making appearances with the Lamb campaign. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley campaigned in Pennsylvania late last month, while progressive Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, will reportedly head there later in the week.
Saccone's campaign has argued the presence of national figures shows Lamb is "out of touch" with the district he wants to represent.
"Conor Lamb's tendency to surround himself with Washington liberals and his choice to campaign with a key part of the anti-coal Obama White House proves he would push the same failed liberal agenda in Congress," the campaign said in a statement.
Trump won the White House in part by promising to revive America's struggling coal industry, which has a major presence in the 18th District.
The closely-watched race has attracted national attention from both major political parties. Trump heads to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a rally during which he is expected to promote Saccone, the GOP tax law and his recent decision to levy stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Sensing the tightness of the race, pro-Republican outside groups have funneled millions into helping Saccone. Outside organizations have shelled out just shy of $7 million opposing Lamb and about $2.5 million supporting Saccone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
On Tuesday, Biden criticized the massive spending, while taking a swipe at the estimated $1 trillion or more in budget deficits that the GOP tax plan is expected to generate.
"By the time this is over, the Republicans might have been able to pay for their entire tax cut" with the money spent by outside groups, he joked.
Many of those ads tied Lamb to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is broadly unpopular nationally, or criticized him for opposing the GOP tax plan. At a rally Monday, Saccone said Pelosi "puppets" came to the district to prop up Lamb.
At the events Tuesday, Biden said congressional Republicans want to prevent Lamb from taking office to make it easier to cut funds for Social Security and Medicare to offset tax cuts he called "obscene."
"If we do nothing in terms of cutting programs, if we just keep things as they are, America's gonna go flat bankrupt over the next 10 years. Not a joke," Biden said. "It's because this tax cut is not paid for. But they have a way to pay for it. And he's gonna get in their way, they're afraid."
Biden drew on Lamb's Marine experience to argue that the candidate would not let his district get "left behind."
Biden said: "This district has been left behind — not just labor, it's been left behind ... This guy gets it. This guy gets it."