In search of Minnesota votes Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden rallied the faithful with a promise that things are looking up for middle-class Americans.

"Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive," Biden told a cheering noontime crowd of about 1,500 people at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis. "How's that for a bumper sticker?"

The vice president delivered a 40-minute pep talk, peppered with broadsides against the GOP presidential ticket, from Mitt Romney's tax returns to Paul Ryan's budget.

"They call their new plan for the economy new, bold and gutsy," Biden said. "What's gutsy about giving millionaires another tax break? What's bold about gutting Medicare and education and research and development in order to pay for that tax cut? ... We've seen this movie before. We know how it ends. It ends with the Great Recession of 2008. It ends with catastrophe."

This election, Biden said, will be a "make-or-break moment" for average Americans.

"Folks, the middle class has started to come back. They have been ravaged," he said. "The American people are looking for a president that will put the nation above his political interests."

Minnesota Republicans largely ignored the vice president's visit, although the state GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge did issue a release the day before, mocking the vice president as gaffe-prone: “The MNGOP welcomes the Vice President’s visit. I hope he remembers what state he’s in, unlike last week’s visit to Virginia, when he boldly stated he and the President could win North Carolina again. Oops.”

Romney will be visiting Minnesota later this week, hoping to capture a state that went strongly for Obama in 2008, but elected its first GOP-led Legislature in decades just two years later. Romney will headline a pair of suburban fundraisers on Thursday, hosted by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz.

Biden's warm-up acts were Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Both urged the crowd to go out and stir up some energy in the grass roots: Volunteer, network, host viewing parties for the upcoming Democratic convention, they said.

"Now it's time to fight again, you can fight with Joe Biden, and you can bet we're in a dogfight," Rybak said as the crowd cheered. They cheered harder when Rybak referenced the 2008 victory. "Biden took on Dick Cheney. He won, and he didn't even get shot in the face doing it."

Biden, in the attack role traditional for vice-presidential candidates, took his share of rhetorical shots at the Republican ticket. It's a role he will likely continue through the campaign, even making a stop in Tampa next week when the GOP opens its convention there. On Tuesday, he hammered Romney for outsourcing U.S. jobs while at Bain Capital and for opposing tougher financial Wall Street regulations.

"In spite of Gov. Romney's insistence to let Detroit go bankrupt, we rescued the automobile industry, saved a million jobs and created 200,000 brand-new, good-paying jobs," Biden said. "Over the objection -- though they sound like squealing pigs -- over the objections of Romney and all his allies, we passed the toughest Wall Street regulations in history, turning Wall Street back into the allocator of capital it always has been and no longer a casino, and they want to repeal it."

After the Minneapolis speech, Biden headed to Rochester for an appearance at the Olmsted County Fair. But first he took a detour to south Minneapolis.

"Hey, guys, how're you doing? My name's Joe Biden," the vice president said, stepping out of his motorcade and onto South High's football field.

The visit stunned the players at the school, which couldn't field enough players to form four complete squads this year. Kneeling in a semi-circle, the players listened as Biden advised them to stay in school and carry the lessons they learn on the field out into life -- if you get hit hard, you get back up.

"I'm vice president, and let me tell you, I'd trade it all to go back and play my senior year again," he joked.

After the reporters withdrew, the players said the vice president had one more bit of motivational advice: If they make it to the championships this year, he'll come back to watch.

"I got to ask him a question. It was truly amazing," said senior Tysean Wallace, who asked Biden whether he and the president planned to "put Mitt Romney down."

Laughing, Biden rephrased the question. The press, he said, would never let him hear the end of it if he used Wallace's word choice.

"But I think we're going to win this race," Biden said.

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049