Washington (CNN) - Vice President Joe Biden appeared at a closed-door fundraiser in South Carolina Friday and delivered what one attendee called “an Elizabeth Warren-type speech” about the struggles of America’s middle class, remarks that were well-received by a room full of influential primary state Democrats.
Biden was in the state capital of Columbia on Friday to give the commencement address at the University of South Carolina. But never one to pass up an opportunity to network with political leaders in a key presidential primary state, the vice president also reached out to the state Democratic Party ahead of his visit to help them raise money.
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He spoke for more than 30 minutes at the fundraiser, stepping away from the podium and delivering remarks while standing among the “mostly VIP crowd" of prominent local attorneys, Democratic activists and a range of current and former elected officials. The event was held at the Capital City Club in downtown Columbia.
Biden touted the Obama administration’s record on the economy, multiple Democrats in the room told CNN, but he also painted a picture of a middle class still struggling while the nation’s top earners continue to line their pockets.
“He said we have some of the most productive workers in the world, but corporations are more concerned about their stockholders than they are about their employees,” said one prominent Democrat who attended the fundraiser but did not want to be identified discussing a private event. “He talked about how the fruits of labor go to stockholders, rather than to the people who are producing it. That the people making the money in this country are the corporations.”
Another Democrat in the room said the vice president “talked about how the system was rigged against the middle class. He said the economic realities of the middle class are diminishing, and that the average middle-class family is finding it hard to make it economically.”
Biden did not mention his own White House ambitions. But several Democrats at the event were struck by one remark he made about Bill Clinton’s presidency: Three sources there told CNN that Biden said the fraying of middle-class economic security did not begin during President George W. Bush’s terms, but earlier, in the “later years of the Clinton administration.” Biden, of course, could face off against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016 if they both decide to run.
Biden’s speech was described, to a person, as “populist.”
“He gave a stem-winding, almost revival-type speech today,” one Democrat said of the vice president. “I have never seen him this good. He was on fire. Sometimes when Joe gives a speech that goes on for 30 minutes, people are kind of drifting off or looking at their watches. But he was more enthused, more passionate. He was a preacher delivering a sermon.”
Biden also stressed the importance of helping Vincent Sheheen, the Democratic nominee for governor, against Gov. Nikki Haley, who is up for re-election this year. He took several swipes at Haley, criticizing her on infrastructure and for declining to accept Medicaid funds available under the Affordable Care Act.
Sheheen, a state senator, and Biden rode together in the vice presidential motorcade on the way into town from the airport. Sheheen, though, did not attend the fundraiser; he had to travel to Charleston for a campaign event with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another Democrat considering a presidential bid in 2016.
At the event, Biden got face time with a variety of prominent Democratic power brokers in the state, including several members of the South Carolina legislative black caucus such as state Sen. Gerald Malloy, state House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford and state Rep. Mia McLeod. Also in attendance were South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, former chairman Dick Harpootlian, attorney Joe McCulloch, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and longtime Biden confidante Trip King.
A representative for Biden did not respond to a CNN request for comment about the fundraiser.