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Biden in NH on official business of presidential politics

Make no mistake: Vice President Joe Biden was in Portsmouth today on official White House business; but he was also in Portsmouth today on Joe Biden business, the business of 2016 presidential politics.

The vice president’s visit to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and his stroll through Portsmouth’s Market Square to eat ice cream from Annabelle’s wasn’t even about the 2014 mid-term election.

This was clearly a look ahead to 2016 and whether voters -- and Biden himself -- have the appetite for a Biden candidacy.

The vice president, came to New Hampshire -- with its first-in-the-nation primary -- under the guise of an official visit, meant to call attention to the shipyard’s “worker engagement.”

He was at the shipyard to get a look at then talk about the shipyard’s job training program. He toured the apprentice shop, got a peek at a submarine mock-up used for training, then said nice things about what he saw.

But an official visit - at this time of year before the mid-term election, at this juncture early in the presidential campaign -- is also a political visit.

As Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, told Foster’s Daily Democrat: “This is what happens in New Hampshire. Everybody knows the game.”

If his motivation was to bring attention to Democrats running for re-election in 2014, it seemed a little stand-offish, particularly where U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is concerned.

The Democratic incumbent who’s running for a second six-year term doesn’t want to be wrapped too tightly to a president and an administration that isn’t all that popular in the Granite State. President Barack Obama’s popularity polled at only 45 percent here this summer, mostly because of the equally unpopular Affordable Care Act.

Which is why, in a statement about Biden’s visit today, Shaheen seemed to go out of her way to highlight her criticism of the administration and its efforts to close the shipyard.

"I will continue to use my position as chair of the Senate Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee to block the administration's base closure recommendations because I know that's what's best for our national security, our shipyard workers and our economy,” Shaheen said in her statement.

It was also interesting that Shaheen went out of her way to include fellow Granite Stater, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, in her remarks.

She noted that the subcommittee has Ayotte as its ranking member and that they’ve taken a bipartisan approach to oppose Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) proposals to close the shipyard.

She told the crowd at the shipyard today that she and Ayotte "are working hard every day to ensure the resources are there for all of you, and that any proposal for a BRAC round never makes it past the committee."

Ayotte was not invited to today’s event with Biden.

Besides, when it comes to support in 2016, Shaheen will throw her political weight to Hillary Clinton.

So the fact that she appears to be keeping the vice president at arm’s length is no surprise.

Paul Briand is an editor with the Live Free or Die Alliance, a non-profit and non-partisan organization that encourages the discussion and analysis of New Hampshire politics and policies.

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