CHICAGO — More than three weeks into the transition, and Vice-president elect Joe Biden generates less buzz than the non-existent first puppy.
The vice president-elect has not spoken publicly since the election, and was at Barack Obama's side just once this week as the president-elect delivered a series of grim news conferences on the economy.
Obama instead appears to be at the center of his longtime Chicago circle.
His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and senior adviser David Axelrod were each at two of Obama's press conferences, and Valerie Jarrett, another senior adviser, joined him during a media-frenzied local lunch stop last Friday. Emanuel and Axelrod have also both already made the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows, where Biden used to be a familiar face.
"I think as the president-elect gets to know the vice president-elect and understands his strengths, he'll rely on him a little more," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who has known Biden for 30 years. "Right now you're almost in the campaign mode still and so you really rely on the people who've been around since the beginning."
Still, it's a precipitous drop in profile from just three months ago, when 47-year-old Obama, dogged by critics who deemed him an elitist who lacked experience, selected as his running mate Biden, a foreign-policy expert who'd been in the Senate since his new boss was in elementary school, but still rode Amtrak to work.
"He's stared down dictators and spoken out for American cops and firefighters," Obama said as he introduced Biden in Springfield, Ill. on a Saturday in late August. "He is uniquely suited to be my partner as we work to put our country back on track."
But even on the trail the tightly controlled campaign kept a close watch on the gaffe-prone Biden as he was dispatched to court Jews in South Florida and blue collar workers in Pennsylvania.
Nor has his role as vice president, a high-profile office with at best nebulous powers, yet been defined, leaving a vacuum filled only with speculation. Amid reports that Obama will name Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State the question swirled: What about Biden? Foreign policy was supposed to be his domain.
"You think he wasn't in on that conversation?" a source involved with the transition asked rhetorically.
Yet in a column last week The Washington Post's David Ignatius called Biden "the incredible shrinking vice president-elect."
"Where is he these days?" Ignatius wonders. "Do they have him in a box? He can't be happy at the idea of considering Clinton as foreign policy tsarina — wasn't Biden's foreign policy savvy the reason he was picked?"
Those close to Biden say he views his role as providing counsel to the president — a function that's often not visible to the public — and that he is doing just that.
Like their recent predecessors, Obama and Biden have met for weekly one-on-one lunches since the election. Biden has also been at every key transition meeting and has had private discussions with Obama on the phone when the vice president-elect has regularly returned from the transition base in Chicago to his home in Delaware.
"He's been very closely involved in the key decisions," said former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who is working with the Obama transition on intelligence. "He and the president-elect have a very good personal chemistry."
The transition made a point last week of giving reporters unsolicited quotes of Obama and Biden joking with each other, details about birthday gifts Obama gave him and photographic evidence of the scene where Obama surprised Biden with 12 cupcakes a day before the vice president-elect's 66th birthday. It appeared like a staged effort to reassure the public that Obama and Biden are still the get-along duo voters saw during the campaign.
Those who are close to Biden say they see him taking on a key role in the administration. He could prove to be the White House's most valuable liaison in the Senate when it comes to keeping Congress in line with the administration's legislative agenda, they say. Obama could use him to weigh in foreign policy and domestic security, and he could be involved in justice issues, having served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Joe Biden is someone who wears very, very well -- the more you get to know him the more you get to like him," said Rendell, who will meet with Obama and Biden next Tuesday at a governors' conference in Philadelphia.
"I think as the process continues, he will be a very important vice president."
The vice presidential office?s role, which expanded tremendously during the Bush administration. Dick Cheney is viewed by many as the most powerful vice president in American history and as a chief architect of the war in Iraq.
The office?s role will likely shrink back to something closer to its usual size after Obama takes office.
Biden famously called Cheney ?the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history.? But his criticism of Cheney?s interpretation of the office perhaps offers the most telling clues about the kind of vice president Joe Biden will be.
In another dig at Cheney during the vice-presidential debate in October, Biden cited Article I in the Constitution to say that the vice president has no legislative authority except to be the tie vote in the Senate.
"And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote," Biden said. "The Constitution is explicit."