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Known for gaffe on Joe Biden, Jim Piccillo hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite

Jim Piccillo mistakenly introduced Joe Biden as “John McCain” at a Democratic rally in Tampa.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times (2008)

Jim Piccillo mistakenly introduced Joe Biden as “John McCain” at a Democratic rally in Tampa.

BROOKSVILLE — Jim Piccillo is trying to turn his political misfortune into a political asset.

The Land O'Lakes Democrat who gained fame for mistakenly introducing then-Sen. Joe Biden as "John McCain" at a 2008 campaign rally in Tampa announced Monday he is running for Congress in 2010.

Piccillo, 35, will challenge Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, a four-term incumbent who handily defeated her Democratic opponent in 2008 with 62 percent of the vote despite Barack Obama's victory in Florida.

Piccillo (pronounced Pitch-illo) is casting himself as a military veteran with a financial sector background who knows the feeling of unemployment.

"I'm like everybody else," he said Monday in an interview hours before his scheduled announcement on the steps of the Hernando County courthouse.

The divorced father of two entered the spotlight in October 2008 after being featured prominently in a New York Times article for his political shift from a registered Republican to an Obama volunteer.

Piccillo worked as a mortgage banker until August 2008, when he was laid off and found himself using food stamps to help support his two young daughters.

He is now employed by National Home Retention Alliance, a Tampa firm that works with cash-strapped homeowners to renegotiate loan terms.

Piccillo's campaign biography states that he served six years in the Army and plans to emphasize his military service, hoping to blunt Brown-Waite's image as a veterans' proponent.

"Photo-ops just scratch the surface," he said of Brown-Waite's efforts. "We need to have people fight for veterans who know what it's like to be a veteran."

Before Piccillo can face the GOP incumbent, he must challenge Tom Doolan, a Mascotte Democrat who filed organizational papers with the Federal Election Commission. Doolan, who lives near Groveland in Lake County, could not be reached for comment.

Brown-Waite said in a statement Monday that she welcomed the opposition.

"What makes America great is that anyone can run," she said. "A heated primary is ahead for my future opponent. I will run hard, as I always do."

Piccillo said he plans to embrace the blunder that made him famous on YouTube.

In a video viewed nearly 200,000 times, he introduced Biden at a Democratic rally at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Oct. 8 with these words: "Please help me today in welcoming the next vice president of the United States: John McCain."

He didn't notice the mistake until hearing himself on the radio later that day. When he tells people the story now, the response is friendly. "Everybody says, 'That's hysterical. I could totally see me doing that,' " he said.

It's the kind of mistake that could haunt his political career, but Piccillo said he plans to embrace it and make fun of his slip in a forthcoming Web campaign video.

"For good or bad, like it or not, it's instant recognition," he said. "If we don't use it for us, people will use it against us."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Known for gaffe on Joe Biden, Jim Piccillo hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite 04/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009 7:46pm]
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