SUN CITY CENTER — Vice President Joe Biden energized a hall of senior citizens in this mostly conservative community on Friday, issuing stark warnings for the future of entitlement programs and women's rights in a Mitt Romney administration.
Biden's 40-minute, gaffe-free address to a crowd of about 1,150 people at a Sun City Center community hall tackled Republican talking points on the new health care law and Medicare. His remarks delivered a few laugh lines, including one that picked up on Barack Obama's characterization of Romney's tax plan during Tuesday's debate as a "sketchy deal."
"I'm reluctant to correct the president on that," Biden said. "But I would respectfully suggest they're not sketchy. They're Etch A Sketchy."
The visit marked Biden's ninth trip to Florida this year. Sun City Center — home to 19,000 people, 77 percent of whom are 65 or older — isn't exactly friendly Democratic territory.
John McCain won about 60 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election. The division showed as several dozen Romney supporters lined the road and waved signs from their yards and golf carts as ticket-holders entered the event site. One person wore a Grim Reaper costume and held a scythe and a poster that said, "America is dying because of Obama."
"We are very educated people, and we know the truth," said Carol Howley, a 69-year-old resident holding a Romney sign. "It scares us that all these people are voting for Obama. We're not for socialism."
Biden shared an on-stage hug with his daughter, Ashley, who came up as he reminded the room about the Republican ticket's antiabortion stance and Romney's "binders full of women" remark at Tuesday's debate. Romney was talking about how he had filled his administration with female officials. Still, the sound bite went viral.
"How did he have to go ask for binders?" Biden said, drawing laughs. "It gives a sort of window into how he thinks about these things."
Biden, who held a rally Friday afternoon in Fort Pierce and will be in St. Augustine today, mocked the Republican ticket for wanting to preserve the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the country's wealthiest people and for opposing tax increases.
"Instead of signing a pledge to Grover Norquist, they should sign a pledge to middle-class people in this country," he said.
As the audience shuffled inside, Obama for America volunteers passed out vote-by-mail request forms and pledge cards.
Doris Thomas, 84, an independent voter who has lived here for 23 years, said she will vote for Obama because she thinks Romney has flip-flopped on too many important issues — something Obama referred to during a Friday campaign stop in Virginia as "Romnesia."
"He keeps changing his mind," she said. "I really don't know what he's for. I can't handle that."
Times staff researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.