SARASOTA — Vice President Joe Biden used a noontime rally here to ask Democrats and Republicans to pull together after the election, just as governors and mayors in the Northeast are doing in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
"Look, it's working like it used to work when I was a young senator," Biden told about 1,300 Democratic supporters and campaign volunteers at the city's Municipal Auditorium.
"We're all better off when we're all working together," he said. "So hopefully when this God-awful storm and its aftermath is dealt with, and when this election is over, we'll once again do what we always do, work together one more time."
But Biden, who spoke for about 40 minutes, wasted little time jumping from that topic to the vast differences between the presidential candidates on issues from taxes and the economy to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout, he painted Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as entrenched in the past and flip-floppers.
"All of sudden, when you heard Romney say for four months it was a tragic mistake for the United States to leave Iraq without leaving 30,000 troops behind, now he's saying, 'I wasn't for this war to begin with,' " Biden said. "Boy, this guy can change fast. You've got to watch this guy."
Meanwhile, he portrayed President Barack Obama as forward-thinking and a champion of the middle class, the poor and women.
He elicited boisterous cheers from women in the crowd when he referenced the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by Obama in 2009, and then contrasted that to Romney and Ryan's positions on women, at one point tying the Republicans to an Indiana Senate candidate who declared his opposition to abortion in instances of rape.
The crowd, including retirees, women and students, interrupted Biden several times, waving signs that said "Forward!" and chanting, "Four more years."
Biden seemed to draw the biggest cheers addressing Romney's statements on tax cuts, including for the rich.
"The only place they're being honest is when they say they want to extend the Bush tax cuts," he said. "Of that money, $500 billion of that tax cut that's supposed to expire on Jan. 1 would go to 120,000 families. … I learned a long time ago, wealthy people are just as patriotic as poor folk, but the last thing they need is another half a trillion dollar tax cut."
Among those attending, Vietnam veteran Tom Shockley, 67, a retired marketing executive from Shreveport, La., came with his wife, Karrie, 50.
He said they were vacationing in Sarasota when he heard about the rally on TV and wanted to show support for Biden. Last year, they attended an Obama rally in New Orleans.
"The Affordable Care Act will help relieve overcrowding in our VA hospitals because now those veterans will be able to seek private coverage," Shockley said.
His wife said she favored keeping abortion legal.
But not everyone in the audience was a Democrat.
Jared Padgett, a 19-year-old student at the State College of Florida, said he was a Romney backer.
"I came because I was curious," he said. "I wanted to hear the lies about Romney and how Obama will move the country forward."
He said he attended a Romney campaign rally a month ago and found that Republicans are "more friendly."
Nearby, a woman wearing Obama campaign buttons yelled: "Democrats are friendly, too."
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected]