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At Burlington County diner, Joe Biden rallies support for Democratic House candidate Andy Kim

Joe Biden stumps for Andy Kim in Willingboro as Kim and incumbent Tom MacArthur are locked in a battle for a congressional seat in the Third District

Former vice president Joe Biden, right, takes a selfie with Democratic candidate Andy Kim, left, and diners at the Golden Dawn Diner in Willingboro , NJ on October 15, 2018.
Former vice president Joe Biden, right, takes a selfie with Democratic candidate Andy Kim, left, and diners at the Golden Dawn Diner in Willingboro , NJ on October 15, 2018.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Joe Biden surprised customers at the Golden Dawn Diner in Edgewater Park, N.J., on Monday afternoon as he campaigned for Andy Kim, the Democratic nominee for U.S. House in the state's Third District.

Biden, who is weighing what would be his third run for president in 2020, has been traveling the country to work on behalf of party candidates in strategic races, as have other potential contenders. Kim is challenging Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur in one of the races that could determine which party will control the House.

Over the weekend, the former vice president earned the top spot in the Democratic field of possible contenders for president in 2020 according to a CNN poll.  He also made campaign appearances in Kentucky, Indiana and South Carolina over the last three days.

The CNN poll reported that 33 percent of those surveyed chose Biden, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who got 13 percent.

At the Golden Dawn, Biden grabbed cellphones from startled customers and took scores of selfies with them before ducking into the kitchen to ask for a cup of chicken soup to take out to one of the patrons.  "I want the tips," he joked, as kitchen staff obliged his wish and laughed.  He asked the workers how they were, then went back to the booths to urge people to vote for Kim.

Kim, a staffer for the National Security Council in the Obama administration, said after the 40-minute visit that Biden was "Classic Joe" at the diner, exhibiting his signature down-to-earth style.  Kim, 36, of Marlton, said that he had met Biden often in the situation room when  Biden was the vice president.  "To have that opportunity to work with him so closely was great," Kim said.

In a Stockton University poll released Monday, 47 percent of respondents favored MacArthur while 45 supported Kim, ending in a statistical tie. Eight percent of the 546 likely voters polled were undecided or said they would not choose between those two candidates.

Republican MacArthur, a former insurance executive from Toms River, is running for his third term in the Third, a longtime GOP stronghold that spans Burlington and part of Ocean County.  Health care and opposition to President Trump and the Republican Congress were the main issues driving voters to Kim, according to the Stockton poll. MacArthur, 57, was reelected in 2016 by a double-digit margin.

The swing district voted for Barack Obama twice, and Donald Trump in 2016.  But for decades, the Third has been represented in Congress by a Republican, with the exception of John Adler, who ran on the ballot with Obama in 2008 and served one term.

Biden said recently while in London that he will not decide whether he's running for president until January.  At the Golden Dawn, when manager Linda Gehm called him Mr. President, he corrected her, saying "former vice president," and laughed.  Gehm, 60, of Burlington Township, said she is a registered Republican but plans to vote for Kim, mainly because MacArthur had proposed repealing the Affordable Care Act, which ensures coverage for preexisting conditions.

Mary Ann Herman, of Florence, urged Biden to run for president.  "We need you, not that jerk who's in there," she said.

Biden asked the diner patrons about their lives, their hometowns, their jobs and cracked wise.  But Hasan Trower, a medical massage therapist and Reiki master from Maple Shade, made Biden tear up momentarily.  "Massage helped my son through hard times," he told Trower, referring to his son, Beau, a former Delaware attorney general who died of brain cancer in 2015.

As Biden prepared to leave the diner, Andrew McMillan, a South Jersey native who is now the pastor of a church in Medellin, Colombia, asked whether he could offer his assistant some political advice because he wants to run for city council there.  McMillan called his assistant on the phone through  Facetime and Biden rattled off tips.  "Spend a lot of time knocking on doors, going to restaurants…," he said.  "People want to be respected and the best way to show respect is to go to them, stay engaged, and tell them you want their vote."