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Biden invoking Obama's picking him for vice president to defend record

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By Mike Memoli and Marianna Sotomayor  with NBC News Politics
Image: Barack Obama, Joe Biden
Barack Obama and Joe Biden celebrate after Obama's acceptance speech at the election night rally in Chicago, on Nov. 4, 2008.   -   Copyright  Jae C. Hong AP file

SUMTER, S.C. — Joe Biden on Saturday will offer his most direct response yet to questions about his record in the Senate especially on issues of race, arguing that Barack Obama's selection of him as his vice president is the ultimate validation of that record.

"I was vetted by him and selected by him. I will take his judgment of my record, my character, and my ability to handle the job over anyone else's," Biden will say at an afternoon event in Sumter, South Carolina, according to advance remarks provided by his campaign.

The campaign says Biden's remarks will center on why he entered public service in the first place and that fighting for civil rights "galvanized him" first to become a public defender and to run for the county council in Delaware.

He will also push back on rivals who want to "weaponize" his decades-long service in the Senate and, in his view, distort the record — arguing that he long fought for change within the Senate.

"America in 2019 is a very different place than the America of the 1970s. And that's a good thing," Biden will say. "I've witnessed an incredible amount of change in this nation and I've worked to make that change happen. And yes — I've changed also."

The former vice president has been on the defensive for weeks after delivering remarks at a fundraiser noting he had to work alongside segregationists when he first joined the Senate, but did so with "civility." Sen. Kamala Harris of California seized on that in the first Democratic presidential debate to ask Biden why he had joined some of those same lawmakers to fight against busing as a means to integrate segregated school systems.

The ensuing back-and-forth has shadowed Biden, particularly this week as both he and Harris campaigned in Iowa. The choice now of South Carolina as the place to try and put the issue to rest — and to do so by invoking Obama's name so explicitly — was notable in a state where African American voters will likely make up a majority of the voters in next February's first-in-the-South primary.

A CBS News-YouGov poll of South Carolina voters conducted in mid-June showed that Biden's service as Obama's vice president was the number one reason why voters said they were considering him in the primary. Biden led the field in that survey with 45 percent.

Ian Sams, national press secretary for the Harris campaign, offered a preemptive rebuttal of Biden's remarks on Twitter.

"Every candidate's record will (and should) be scrutinized in this race. It's a competition to become President of the United States. There are no free passes," he wrote.

Biden has not been shy about highlighting his connection to Obama throughout his campaign so far, often referring to him in speeches as his "buddy" and highlighting their partnership in some of the administration's biggest policy fights, especially the Affordable Care Act.

Days after announcing his candidacy, Biden's campaign released a video that included Obama's effusive praise for Biden as he awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the final days of his White House tenure.

Obama has not endorsed Biden in the primary, though a spokesperson issued a statement praising him when he entered the race — something they had not done for any other candidate. The statement also made clear Obama's preference not to put his thumb on the scale in the primary.