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Happy hour: Biden and Buffett swing through St. Pete on the final night of a surreal campaign

By Jay Cridlin | Pop Music/Culture Critic
Published: November 8, 2016 Updated: November 8, 2016 at 03:10 AM
After greeting Vice President Joe Biden, Jimmy Buffett shakes hands with Dr. Jill Biden during a campaign appearance at Albert Whitted Park in St. Petersburg on November 7, 2016. Also pictured, from left, are congressional candidate and former Gov. Charlie Crist, U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — Bombers on, shirtsleeves rolled to the elbows, Joe Biden took the stage at happy hour and roared one last invocation to the masses.

"Man, you are some state," he said. "It always comes down to Florida."

So it does, doesn't it? Which is why on the final night of this endless, maddening 2016 campaign, the vice president called on the ultimate Florida Man, Jimmy Buffett, for a free voter rally on behalf of Hillary Clinton at Albert Whitted Park.

It sounded like a headline from The Onion — "Joe Biden Hitches Last-Minute Flight To Florida For Free Jimmy Buffett Concert" — but as the sun set behind the Salvador Dalí

Museum, Election Day hours away, it also offered Floridians one last chance to soak in the surreality of it all.

"I get to pinch myself a lot at work," said U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy, who spoke before Buffett and Biden, a day after campaigning with President Barack Obama and Stevie Wonder in Kissimmee. "Growing up in the Keys, (Buffett) is an icon. To have him now doing a little show to help encourage people to vote for you is pretty cool."

Be honest: Aren't you going to miss it? Just a little? Won't you miss the deplorables and nasty women, Sam Bee and Bill Mitchell, Breitbart and FiveThirtyEight, #ImWithHer and #MAGA, Obama robocalls, the way that one ad sneers the name Paaatrick Murrrphy? And the memes! My god, think of the memes!

Okay, fine, no sane human will miss any of that.

But maybe we will miss the history that's been unfolding in our back yard these past three weeks. Every day since the final debate Oct. 19, we've seen a presidential or vice presidential figure campaign within a tank of gas from Tampa, often with a celebrity like Buffett in tow. They're not getting this kind of action in beet-red Wyoming or blue-blood Vermont, that's for sure.

Yet not only are we completely used to it, we're completely over it. It seems totally normal that days before the election, Donald Trump would stump with Joe Piscopo in Tampa, while Tim Kaine would play harmonica with Jon Bon Jovi in St. Petersburg. It makes total sense that a big gun like Biden would swoop into St. Pete to court the distinguished gentlemen and -women of Margaritaville. This is how Florida picks presidents now. You're welcome, America.

"Yes, it's been quite a summer," Buffett sang on Come Monday, a song whose lyrics he tweaked for the occasion: "There's a Dumpster that waits for that Trumpster with hate / and I'm all glad we're on the right side."

The crowd cheered, but will it really make a difference come Tuesday? Well, there weren't many minorities in the mostly older crowd, not all of whom were #WithHer.

"Not voting," shrugged Dan McCain, 68, of New Port Richey, unwinding on a bench in a lime green lei. "Don't like either one of them. I'd vote for Jimmy Buffett, though."

There you have it: The Sunshine State has spoken.

After Biden's Trump-roasting, science-pushing stump speech, Buffett politicked between songs, pledging support for Clinton ("I come from a house of women. I live in a house of women now. I'd like to see a woman in the White House") and the pro-marijuana Amendment 2.

"A little relief, right? That's all we're asking for," he said. "Down in Margaritaville, we know what that's about."

Relief. Yes. Just repeat it to yourself: One more day. One more day. One more day. Then, finally, mercifully, our state can get back to its own special variety of normal.

Keep your shaker of salt at the ready.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.