FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Former Vice President Joe Biden kicked off Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's final statewide campaign tour Thursday in a whisper instead of his usual fiery tone, making a quiet call for civility that was accentuated by laryngitis.
Biden's first order of business in front of a few hundred people at the Fargo Air Museum was to apologize for his hushed delivery. He then proceeded to outline countrywide problems that he said have been worsened by the "lack of dignity in the national dialogue."
Heitkamp has remarkable courage and fierce independence and is needed in Washington to help foster bipartisanship, Biden said.
"There is no better example of character in public life, in public office, than your United States senator," he said, drawing his speech's loudest ovation and chants of "Heidi, Heidi."
Heitkamp, who is seen as trailing in her re-election campaign against Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, plans more than 20 stops in towns across North Dakota. The five-day trip is being billed as the "Bring it Home Heidi" tour.
Heitkamp told the crowd that she was in a similar spot at this time six years ago, when she said she was written off in her campaign against Republican Rick Berg. She won that race by a few thousand votes.
She emphasized the importance of the final days of the campaign.
"I think at some point you have to say, 'I need 150,000 votes,'" she said. "We think we've identified them and we're going to get them out."
Asked if it was the send-off she expected from the former vice president, Heitkamp noted that Biden wasn't feeling well but was also in a contemplative mood. She said it's an unusual time in the country and she liked his message about working together.
"After you have experienced having two pipe bombs sent to you, I think you might step back and say 'Let's reduce the rhetoric, let's talk about what's important in maybe a calmer way,'" Heitkamp said, referring to a wave of pipe bombs addressed to prominent Trump critics and Democrats, including Biden. A Florida man has been charged in the case.
"By all measures, if you have heard Joe Biden speak before, this was pretty calm, lacking in fiery language speech," she added.
Christina Everett, 41, of Fargo, said she came to the rally because she "believes in Heidi" and said Biden was a good choice because he can relate to everyone.
"He has a passion that is very genuine," Everett said. "He brings a truth and a reality to it that I think everyone can appreciate."
North Dakota Republican Party spokesman Jake Wilkins said in a statement that Biden "won't be able to make North Dakota voters forget Heitkamp's anti-North Dakota record."