SARASOTA — Sen. Joe Biden made a pitch to middle-class Americans during a campaign stop in Florida on Wednesday, saying the country's firefighters, police officers, teachers, salesmen and white-collar workers are "under siege."
"Barack Obama gets it," said Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate.
He spoke to a crowd of about 2,000 people at Sarasota's Booker High School, wrapping up a two-day swing through the state.
"There's never been an election that's more consequential than this one," Biden said. "It's literally about the reality, or lack of reality, of the American dream."
He blasted McCain spokesman Rick Davis for telling editors of the Washington Post that the presidential election would be decided on overall impressions of the candidates, not the issues.
"It's not about the issues," Biden mused. "It's about the lives of the American people."
It's about whether Americans can fill their gas tanks, make their house payments, pay for health care and college tuition, he said.
"I've never seen a time when so many people have been knocked down and the government has done so little, so little, to help them get up," he said. "This is really serious stuff, man."
Biden spoke for about 30 minutes before fielding questions from the audience.
One woman said that although she's an Obama supporter, she wonders what to tell friends who earn more than $250,000 a year and worry that an Obama-Biden victory will mean higher taxes.
"It's time to be patriotic. That's what you say to them," Biden answered.
Yes, Obama's tax plan might cost them more, "but I promise you it's not going to cost them an extra car. It's not going to cost them a vacation. It's not going to cost them a home in North Carolina," he said.
Asked how he planned to debate Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, Biden said he will not question her readiness to be vice president.
"She was the governor of a state. She warrants respect," Biden said. "I assume that she's qualified."
Of more importance are Palin's positions on such issues as Supreme Court appointments and the war in Iraq, he said.
In an exclusive interview with the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 after the town hall meeting, Biden said he wasn't concerned that Palin would automatically draw women to the McCain ticket.
"I have never — being raised by strong women — trivialized women. … I think it's insulting to say to women who have fought all their lives to see a woman in office to say, 'By the way we'll take one under any circumstances,' " Biden said "C'mon, not the women I was raised with."
The full interview with Biden will air at 11 a.m. Sunday on Political Connections on Bay News 9.
Those who turned out to hear Biden ranged from 8-year-old Eddie Hundley to 83-year-old Helen Heathington.
Heathington said it was the first political rally she had attended in decades. After listening to Biden, she said she felt confident he and Obama would deliver on their promises.
"I'm energized," she said. "If I was 40 years younger I would really get out there and work."
That's what Hundley is doing. The third-grader has been raising money for the campaign by making and selling red-white-and-blue beaded bracelets that spell out such phrases as "Yes We Can" and "Obama for Pres." So far, he's raised $50.
Wednesday wasn't the third-grader's first time at a political event. In May, he and his grandmother traveled to Tampa to see Obama.
Times staff writer Joni James contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.