TAMPA — Jim Piccillo swears he was not a spy planted by the John McCain campaign to sabotage Barack Obama. Yes, he's a registered Republican, but all that phone banking and get-out-the-vote grunt work done on behalf of Mr. "Yes We Can" is for real.
So what made Piccillo, in front of thousands at the USF Sun Dome on Wednesday, introduce Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, as "John McCain."
"A brain fart," he said.
"To be honest, I think it was just an everyman kind of moment," said the 34-year-old Land O'Lakes resident, who was watching a Rays playoff game at home Monday night when a party operative called and asked him to warm up the crowd for Biden.
Piccillo, who had been quoted briefly in a New York Times article about his abandoning the GOP, heartily accepted and immediately began working on a speech. The draft was traded back and forth between him and the Obama campaign and got revised "seven or eight times."
On top of page three is a reference to McCain, and Piccillo thinks he must have glanced down at it when it came time to say the senator's name. However, he didn't realize he had named the wrong senator.
The crowd cheered, and Biden stepped onstage without missing a beat. It wasn't until he was driving home that they learned about the flub, played on WFUS-FM, 103.5. "We thought it was a joke, that they'd spliced it in," said Piccillo's fiancee, Sandi Keeble.
Then the reporters started calling.
No, Piccillo told them, he didn't get paid by the McCain campaign. He just messed up.
"This is the biggest foot I've ever had in my mouth," he said.
Not that Piccillo, who said he majored in musical theater at college, hasn't made mistakes onstage before. During a community theater performance of Guys and Dolls, he once took a misstep during a dance number and toppled a stack of newspapers, which knocked over a sign.
Piccillo, who said he did not vote in Florida's presidential primary, said he probably would have voted for McCain if he had cast a ballot. He liked the Arizona senator's down-home sincerity.
But he switched his allegiance when he heard former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani ridicule Obama's work as a community organizer during a speech at the Republican National Convention.
The laughter from the crowd at the convention set off Piccillo, a former mortgage company executive who found himself without a job on Aug. 11.
"I believe in smaller government," said Piccillo, who has been drawing unemployment. "But I definitely feel a necessity to help those who are trying to make a better life for themselves."
He said Obama and Biden propose policies that support that philosophy. While waiting to go onstage, he got a chance to meet Biden, whom he described as "incredibly personable.
"If you were standing in line at Publix you could imagine turning around and talking to this guy," he said.
Piccillo said he's sorry for his mistake, which he knows will be played and replayed, but life goes on.
"I have no problem with people knowing I screwed up," he said. "I'm just asking for a little bit of understanding for this whole thing."