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Jul 22, 6:17 PM EDT

Seeking the limelight, Biden courts key Dem groups

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Caught in Hillary Rodham Clinton's perpetual shadow, Joe Biden is working to boost his political profile among key Democratic voting blocs, a move that could help the vice president fashion himself as a more liberal alternative in the 2016 presidential race.

Major speeches this week to the NAACP and the Urban League will give Biden prime opportunities to court African-American voters who twice helped deliver the White House to President Barack Obama. He'll do his part to help Democrats in the battleground state of Nevada at a campaign rally Wednesday. And last week, Biden wooed liberals at a pair of grassroots summits, basking in the adoration of activists who chanted "We love Joe."

Biden knows he's not the first name that comes to mind as the Democratic Party's likeliest next presidential candidate. That distinction belongs to Clinton, who dominates in early primary polls and has well-funded political groups trying to draft her to run.

But in recent days, Biden has emerged as a frequent headliner for left-leaning groups, keeping his name high on the list of Democrats who could challenge Clinton or pursue the nomination if she doesn't run. He's joined on that list by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who are pitching populist themes that appeal to those in the party's liberal wing who insist Clinton doesn't have a lock on the nomination.

"I don't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to fighting some of the toughest progressive battles the country has seen," Biden said last week in an energetic speech in Detroit to Netroots Nation.

A day earlier, Biden was at Generation Progress in Washington, where he said he'd been on the "front lines" promoting liberal priorities such as income equality and climate change. He reminded listeners of his early backing for gay marriage, noting how he'd come out in support ahead of Obama. Left unsaid: He also beat Clinton to the cause.

Biden hasn't announced whether he'll run in 2016, but he maintains close ties to early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and is fundraising aggressively for Democrats this year. He's also differentiated himself from Clinton by stressing his lack of personal wealth just as Clinton was getting flak for raking in massive speaking fees, declaring recently that he was once "the poorest man in Congress."

Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist, said if Biden is considering another run, putting himself in front of the Democratic base is exactly the right strategy.

"Until somebody announces, this is anyone's game," Cardona said. "If the vice president knows that he's interested in this, it would be politically stupid for him not to be doing what he's doing."

Biden's string of speeches comes as advocacy groups across the country are convening for their annual conventions, and it's not unusual for vice presidents to appear at such events. The vice president's office said Biden doesn't have any other speaking engagements scheduled for the foreseeable future.

Biden's remarks Wednesday in Las Vegas to the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, precede a Thursday speech at the National Urban League Conference in Ohio, another key presidential state. In between, Biden will rally for House candidate Erin Bilbray, who is running to unseat Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. Although Heck is outpacing Bilbray in fundraising, the race has attracted national attention from Democrats.

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