SCRANTON, Pa. - Ever since President Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared together for a joint network interview in January, it seemed as if the president had unofficially made the former secretary of state his heir apparent.
But on Friday, Obama stood by Vice President Joe Biden in Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pa., heaping praise on the man who has dutifully been at his side since Obama picked him as his running mate exactly five years ago.
"If it weren't for Scranton, I wouldn't have Joe Biden," Obama said at Lackawanna College. "It was the best decision that I ever made politically, because I love this guy. And he's got heart. And he cares about people. And he's willing to fight for what he believes in. And he's got some Scranton in him."
"Thank you, Joe, for saying yes five years ago," Obama said.
Biden, who remained out of the spotlight this week in Houston with his son Beau, re-emerged Friday at Obama's side on the last stop of the president's two-day bus tour highlighting his proposals to make college more affordable.
"Hello, Scranton!" Biden said as he bounded onto the stage. "I tell you, it's good to be home. I left here a long time ago, but a lot of my friends out here know your heart stays here, it never leaves. And it's a delight to be back."
The vice president soaked up the hometown welcome, shaking hands with supporters long after the president left the gymnasium. He talked about the importance of the middle class, access to education and even used one of his favorite words - "malarkey."
The event had all the trappings of a campaign event - giant American flags hanging in a gymnasium, locals cheering on their hometown boy gone big - but what was missing was an official candidate.
Biden has been coy about whether or not he'll pursue the presidency for a third time after unsuccessful runs in 1988 and 2008. With many of the Democratic wagons circling around Hillary Clinton, it remains unclear how a potential run by the former secretary of state will affect Biden's decision. Complicating matters further: Where would Obama's allegiance fall?
In his second term as vice president, Biden has signed up to travel to all the early primary states. In September, he will take part in Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry, the same spot where a young Obama made his Iowa debut in 2006.
Biden courted South Carolina Democrats in May with a speech at an annual fundraiser followed by the legendary fish fry hosted by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. The vice president was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan in Maine this week but canceled to be with his son in Houston.
Then there are the not-so-subtle verbal slips that suggest the commander-in-chief job is on the vice president's mind. At a State Society of Iowa gala over inauguration weekend, Biden told the crowd, "I'm proud to be the president of the United States," before correcting himself to applause and laughter.
And on Election Day 2012, Biden was frank when a reporter asked whether that would be the last ballot he casts for himself.
"No, I don't think so," Biden said last November.
Republicans were quick to paint the visit to his hometown Friday as an opportunistic moment for the vice president.
Three years out from the next election, the Republican National Committee dubbed the event the "Biden 2016 Kickoff Tour," releasing a video highlighting the president's mistake in 2008 when he introduced Biden as "the next president."
Former Republican presidential candidate and Pennsylvania native Rick Santorum weighed in on Biden's Scranton visit too, accusing the vice president of using his connection to the town as "a pawn to brandish" his "'every-man' credentials."
During the 2012 campaign, Biden often carried the mantle of warrior for the middle class, oftentimes reminding voters of his humble roots in Scranton as the "son of an automobile man."
On Friday, Biden continued that tradition, talking about the lessons he learned in Scranton, including one that could come in handy when deciding on a 2016 White House bid.
"I grew up not many blocks from here where we are today, and I can tell you, there wasn't a mom or dad in my neighborhood - Green Ridge up by Marywood - not a single one - not a single one that believed their child couldn't grow up to be anything they wanted to be," he said.
"Not a doubt in their mind as they struggled, but no doubt if they were willing to work hard, we could do whatever we wanted to do. And guess what? They were absolutely right.
"There are a lot of people who tell you that you have to shrink your dreams in this country now, that today's generation of Americans and tomorrow's are just not going to be able to aim as high as we did. That's a bunch of malarkey."