NEW PORT RICHEY — Roughly a hundred yards from a plaque for President George W. Bush, Joe Biden asked voters Monday to reject John McCain's bid for president.
Instead, voters should choose Barack Obama if they want jobs to increase and home foreclosures to drop, Biden, Obama's running mate, told a crowd of 3,200 at Sims Park in New Port Richey.
McCain, Biden said, will just provide the status quo — despite recent promises of change.
"I know Halloween is Friday, but John McCain, dressed as an agent of change — that costume doesn't fit," Biden said to cheers at the riverfront park where Bush rallied in 2004.
The 19-minute speech in the chilly breeze began a bus tour that will take Biden to other places Republicans have considered their turf, such as Ocala today. Bush easily took Pasco in 2004.
But the Democratic ticket is seizing on the state's economic trouble to swing places like New Port Richey and Pasco County to their side. Pasco has been among counties hit the hardest by home foreclosures.
Even if Biden didn't quite get the place right.
"Hello, hello, Port Richey," Biden opened, flubbing his geography by referring to the city's neighbor due north.
Biden and supporters said the Democrats will break partisan gridlock to ease financial burdens, offering tax cuts and better health care for the working class.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, a Democrat who also has won Pasco, said Obama and Biden know how to improve the country.
"I've witnessed these two men operate — they reach across the partisan divide," Nelson told the crowd.
Tina Limberick of Port Richey, who attended the event with her brother, sister-in-law and two young nieces, said Biden's promise to bring back the middle class particularly struck her.
"In Pasco County, you've got lots of poor and a little middle class," said Limberick, 36. "It used to be lots of middle class and a little poor. That's not the case anymore."
Republicans say the Obama plan will only hurt the economy and raise taxes on the wrong people. About 30 McCain supporters demonstrated outside the rally. They criticized Obama for not opposing all abortions and questioned his "American heritage."
"The guy is scary," said Rose Marchant of New Port Richey.
But Biden suggested attacks on Obama were "the last resort when you have nothing left to offer the American people."
"The defenders of the status quo have always tried to tear down those who would change our nation for the better," Biden said. "They said that Thomas Jefferson was not a real Christian. Sound familiar?"
Times staff writers Molly Moorhead and Michael Kruse contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6232.