TAMPA — Joe Biden returned to Florida on Wednesday, blasting the McCain-Palin campaign for "low road" attack politics.
"I guess when you vote with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, your best hope is to attack your opponent 100 percent of the time," Biden told thousands of rowdy Barack Obama supporters at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.
"You can't call yourself a maverick when all you've ever been is a sidekick."
The Democratic vice presidential nominee had been off the campaign trail for several days after the death of his mother-in-law. On the heels of Sarah Palin's two-day Florida trip spent attacking Obama's character and patriotism, Biden jumped back in the fray to accuse John McCain of embracing the same kind of sleazy politics that President Bush used to derail McCain's presidential campaign eight years ago.
"The McCain campaign went out and hired the very political manipulators in the Republican primary who in 2000 led those vicious attacks against John's daughter and John's lovely wife," said Biden, 65. "They hired those people to come on board. And now these same people, they're attacking Barack Obama in the ugliest of ways."
At least 3,000 people turned out for Biden's appearance in Tampa, the top battleground region in this state that McCain can't afford to lose.
Illustrating how much of a priority Florida has become, Obama dispatched two of his top lieutenants, campaign officials said Wednesday. Deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand will oversee operations from Miami, and chief general election strategist Paul Tewes will be in Tampa to oversee get-out-the-vote efforts.
Since the financial crisis erupted, polls have shown a neck-and-neck race in Florida, where Obama is overwhelmingly outspending McCain on voter mobilization efforts and TV ads.
"You know, Barack wanted to be here today, but after what your Devil Rays did to his Chicago White Sox, it was just too painful for him," Biden quipped. "The man's hurting right now."
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, stressed the importance of early voting starting Oct. 20, noting that vans and "a little pizza" would be available for ferrying students to early voting sites.
Standing in line for the event, Tampa retiree Joseph Flata, 65, said the economic crisis makes him think he could have to return to work, and that Obama's economic agenda could help.
"Obama has a plan to create new jobs in energy," said Flata, musing about starting a solar or wind energy business.
Several voters contrasted Biden and Palin and speculated about the mortality of McCain, 72.
"He is so old and has had cancer, and he's picked this rookie who really could become president," said 20-year-old Monica Lynn.
An analysis by the Wisconsin Advertising Project found that McCain had spent about $659,000 on Florida TV spots from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4 — almost all of them negative ads — while Obama had spent more than $2.2-million.
Biden said the negative attacks and "outrageous inferences" were aimed at distracting voters from the issues that matter and from McCain's record of supporting most of the Bush agenda of the past eight years. Biden called McCain "an angry man, lurching from one position to another."
McCain spokesman Ben Porritt dismissed the criticism, saying neither Obama nor Biden has a record of bucking his party.
"Their run-with-the-herd mentality, radical associations and partisan proposals have made them the most liberal ticket in political history," Porritt said.
Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8241.