COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Just two miles apart here on Friday night, Vice President Joseph Biden and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz addressed their own party faithful, both outlining two wildly different visions for the future of the nation.
It may be early, but both men are considered possible presidential prospects in the next national election, and their decision to address party members in South Carolina--a state that traditionally hosts the first presidential primary in the South--inevitably provokes speculation. Biden even joked that he was inviting it by speaking in South Carolina, but he insisted that wasn't why he came. (It didn't help that C-SPAN advertised both speeches as part of its new "Road to the White House 2016" series.)
Speaking to South Carolina Democrats at their annual Jefferson Jackson fundraiser at the city's convention center, Biden defended government programs that offer subsidized health care and college loans and said that the Republican House budget proposal, which calls for reducing federal government spending, showed a lack of commitment to the country.
Republicans, Biden said, were "down on America."
"One of the the things that bothers me most about the new Republican Party is how down on America they are. How down on our prospects they are. How they talk about how we're getting clobbered. How they talk about things that have no relationship to reality. All in the name of making sure that the people at the top do very well," Biden said. "It's never, ever, ever been, in the history of this country, to bet against the American people."
Referring to Republicans earlier in his speech, Biden said: "Where are these guys from? I'm being serious. What don't they understand about this country?"
Across town at the Columbia fairgrounds, Cruz urged Republicans not to feel discouraged after losing the presidential vote last year, emphasizing how quickly political winds can change. He pointed to widespread Republican victories in 2004, when the party gained majorities in both chambers of Congress and retained control of the White House. There was talk of a "permanent Republican majority" at the time, he said. All of that was lost in just two years later, however, when Democrats took control of the Congress. By 2009, Democrats had the White House too, and a super-majority in the Senate.
"Things can change quickly," Cruz said. "I believe change will come quickly, and in particular, I am convinced that with your help, we're going to take back the Senate in 2014."
The dueling speeches marked the beginning of a busy week ahead for Palmetto state politicos: Both parties are holding their own state conventions here Saturday. Next week, the state will hold a special election in the first congressional district to fill the House seat that was left open when now-Sen. Tim Scott was appointed to replace Jim DeMint in the Senate. Campaign events are planned Saturday and Monday, with the election on Tuesday.