When Barack Obama and Joe Biden first hit the campaign trail, it seemed the two were Best Friends Forever. Every picture showed them laughing, patting each other on the back, whispering and cheery. Michelle and Jill were hugging on Entertainment television and complimenting each other. “Every major decision he’ll be making, I’ll be sitting in the room giving my best advice,” Biden told us of his role in the administration. Obama assured us that Joe Biden would be his foreign policy point-man and a trusted adviser on almost every major issue.

Yet when he’s not bumbling his phrases, America tends to look the other way. Joe Biden may not be the scrappy Scranton-based, lunch-box-totin’ “Average Joe” he painted himself as during the campaign; but he’s certainly lacking the star power that some of the latest appointees hold…

For instance, women’s rights advocates and many disillusioned voters have been holding their breath for months, awaiting news on Hillary Clinton’s future.

And how could he possibly compete with Rahm Emanuel, the man with “big brass balls that clank as he walks down the halls of Congress?” Robert Gates is staying onboard, much to the delight of Republicans.

Then there’s Susan Rice, whose UN ambassador position has been restored to a cabinet-level position, as it was under Bill Clinton. “She’s obviously one of Obama’s closest advisers,” says Nancy Soderberg, a senior US diplomat under Clinton. She’ll be buddied up with Sec of State Hillary and Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano to project the Obama message past our borders, but will there be room in the girls’ club for Biden?

Recently, senior Obama adviser and long-time friend, David Axelrod, told the New York Times: “I’m sure there will be discreet assignments over time. But I think his fundamental role is as a trusted counselor. I think that when Obama selected him, he selected him to be a counselor and an adviser on a broad range of issues.”

So far the “discreet assignments” have meant: a weekly on-one-one luncheon with President-Elect Obama; the task of calling three candidates for PM of Israel, the President of Colombia, the President of Georgia and the foreign policy chief of the EU; the job of interviewing candidates for chief economist; stuffing soldiers for overseas troops and a small speaking slot / appearance at 1/3 news conferences this week.

Analysts point out that by this time, Bill Clinton had assigned Al Gore the mission of developing civilian science and technology applications (you know, “inventing the Internet”) and George W. Bush had given Dick Cheney the national security gig by now. Even Sarah Palin, who never reached the White House steps, said she anticipated working on “energy” and “support for families with disabled children.”

Not everyone thinks Biden will have so much sway. “I can see Joe in his (vice president’s) room (just off the Senate Chamber), smiling, slapping people on the back, making his points, working the members,” visualizes former Senator Bob Kerry (D-Neb). Senate Democrats say they’ll be inviting Biden to weekly lunches to inform him of concerns from both Democrats and Republicans early-on.

Just before the election, Biden himself admonished, “I’m confident I’ll be spending a fair amount of time working with Congress. I really have genuine relationships with Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. I’ve never once misled any of my colleagues, Democrats or Republicans.”

Former Gore Chief-of-Staff Charles Burson concedes, “It can be a senior adviser-in-chief role, and I think Al Gore had that,” but he also wonders about the chemistry between President Obama and Biden. They’ve known each other just four short years since Obama was campaigning for the senate, which pales in comparison to many of Obama’s closest aides and staff members who joined him from Chicago. Even so, Obama has lavished much praise on Biden throughout the campaign trail and his blog painted the portrait of a close-knit union. Despite his foreign policy credentials, it’s entirely possible Crime-Fightin’ Joe will go back to focusing on domestic assignments. In August, Obama said of his #2: “I think he’s the man who can help me guide this country in a better direction and help working families.”

While Politico’s Carol Lee says Biden’s “generating less buzz than the non-existent first puppy” and the Washington Post’s David Ignatius calls him “the incredible shrinking vice president-elect,” it’s likelier that Joe’s thinking long and hard about finding a comfortable middle-ground for his legacy. On one hand, he admires the way Walter Mondale expanded the duties of the VP, but on the other hand he sees danger in being heavy-handed as Dick Cheney. He’s probably enjoying a break from the stressful spotlight, the incessant interviews and the tedious travel plans, after all. Like many beautiful autumn flowers, perhaps Joe’s just a late-bloomer.

Politics Is There Still Room For BFF Biden?