BC-SC--Biden-South Carolina, 2nd Ld-Writethru,417<\n>Biden addresses U of SC grads, attends fundraiser

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to graduates during Friday's commencement exercises at the University of South Carolina. The graduates were from the Moore School of Business, Nursing, Mass Communications and Information Studies and the Arnold School of Public Health.

COLUMBIA - Members of the generation now graduating from college are likely to see such advancements in their lifetimes as self-driving cars, extensive use of 3-D technology, and a reduction in world hunger, Vice President Joe Biden told University of South Carolina graduates Friday.

Biden told the more than 1,000 graduates that, as was the case with his own generation, today's students are living in a rapidly changing world.

"We're better positioned than any other nation in the world to lead the 21st century," Biden said. "You're going to help build it. ... It has never, never, never been a good bet to bet against America."

Biden's comments formed the official component of a visit to South Carolina that was otherwise steeped in politics. Earlier in the day, he was the main attraction at a luncheon and fundraiser benefiting the South Carolina Democratic Party. The event was closed to reporters but nonetheless fueled the relentless speculation about Biden's future aspirations.

Throughout his tenure as vice president, Biden has continued to carefully cultivate ties to key states, including South Carolina, where he would have to seek support should he mount a third presidential campaign in 2016.

Biden has made frequent visits to South Carolina - traditionally the third state to hold a primary in a presidential election year - and headlined the state party's annual dinner last May. He's also paid visits to Iowa and New Hampshire and helped raise money for Democratic candidates competing in those critical presidential states.

Biden's connection to South Carolina is multifaceted. He's vacationed on Kiawah Island, spoken at the 2010 dedication of a University of South Carolina library named for former U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings, and, two years later, traveled to Charleston for a funereal vigil for Hollings' late wife, Peatsy. In 2003, he eulogized longtime U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Biden has said he's considering a 2016 presidential bid, but many Democrats believe his decision will be heavily colored by that of another Democrat: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Many Democrats view Clinton as having a nearly insurmountable advantage over any other members of the party for the 2016 nomination if she chooses to run.

In response to Biden's fundraiser appearance earlier Friday, the South Carolina Republican Party quickly sent out a news release noting the visit's cost to taxpayers.

"We welcome more Washington liberals visiting to support South Carolina Democrats," party chairman Matt Moore said.

Associated Press Writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report. Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP