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Biden may visit North Suncoast

NEW PORT RICHEY — City officials and local politicians prepped Thursday for a possible visit by a member of a presidential campaign ticket — and this time, it's actually a Democrat.

Vice presidential nominee Joe Biden was making plans for a rally Monday at Sims Park, local officials said, setting the stage for the first major appearance by a Democratic contender since Jimmy Carter noshed on peanut butter ice cream during a stop at Southgate Plaza three decades ago.

Since then, no major Democrat has made a significant campaign stop, but Republicans have. President Bush rallied at Sims Park in the 2004 campaign, and a few GOP contenders hit Pasco before this year's presidential primary. Bush also campaigned in Pasco as a candidate in 2000. And Vice President Dan Quayle held a 1992 rally Sims Park.

Democrats were left to witness only unsuccessful 1992 candidate Paul Tsongas, who had a low-key breakfast fundraiser in Wesley Chapel, according to news reports. Some longtime Democrats don't remember that, recalling only Carter speaking on a pickup truck.

But on Thursday, officials were seen scouting Sims Park for a rally. County Commissioner Michael Cox agreed to a state party request to clear his schedule Monday for a Biden event. A spokeswoman for the Barack Obama campaign wouldn't confirm or deny the visit yet.

City Council member Rob Marlowe, who has a computer business near Sims Park, said he saw a number of city department heads and other "well-dressed" people scoping out the park in the morning. He said City Manager Tom O'Neill told him they were at the park to prepare for the Biden visit, which O'Neill later confirmed to the Times.

However, no one said a visit was absolutely certain.

"There's a strong possibility he's going to be there," said New Port Richey Police Chief Martin Rickus.

Democrats were enthused at the prospect of a visit from Biden, a U.S. senator from Delaware. Fueled by new suburbanites, Bush won Pasco by 10 percentage points over John Kerry in 2004, four years after Democrat Al Gore narrowly won the county.

"I'm not saying that the Republicans wouldn't have won it anyway, but when the sitting president came to Sims Park, he delivered the county," said Tax Collector Mike Olson, a Democrat who was the county chairman of Carter's 1976 campaign.

A Biden visit might create attention and momentum for Democrats to be more competitive in Pasco, though county Republican chairman Bill Bunting planned a "greeting party" to get John McCain's message out, too.

"I can tell you a month ago, I'm sure that McCain would have taken Pasco County handily," Olson said. "I'm no longer sure of that."

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Biden may visit North Suncoast 10/23/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 25, 2008 2:10pm]
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