Democratic presidential candidate Tom Harkin spoke to a crowd that included more than 100 deaf voters Friday, and everyone heard him loud and clear.
At the Deaf Service Center of Pinellas County, Harkin opened his speech in sign language. Then, as an interpreter used sign language, he explained that his brother, a deaf auto worker, lost his job after 23 years when his employer decided to bust the union.
The story fit well in Harkin's campaign speech. He left no doubt he supports union causes and decries junk-bond dealers and corporate raiders, whom he says profited at the expense of the middle class.
"No one has to tell me whose side I'm on," he said. "I'm giving them hell and they deserve to get it, too."
Harkin blamed George Bush for the excesses of the 1980s, saying his and Ronald Reagan's policies led to "the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class picking up the tab for both."
The country should cut defense spending and use the money to improve education, rebuild America's infrastructure and create jobs, Harkin said. And, he added, "I'm not talking about George Bush jobs, those dead-end, minimum-wage jobs."
Harkin also noted he was a leader in the successful effort to pass a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. He said it was his proudest accomplishment in public life.
To Romance Jones of Seminole, who is deaf, Harkin's speech was "very wonderful." Writing on a reporter's notepad, she said she supports Harkin, "because he will treat all the people fair."
"Harkin will support deaf people. We love Harkin," added Judith Mallott of Clearwater.
Harkin is coming off a fourth-place showing in New Hampshire, where he got 10 percent of the Democratic vote. But during his speech Friday, he said he was just as confident of his ability to beat Bush as he was the day he announced his candidacy.
"We shouldn't just leave it up to 100,000 Democrats in New Hampshire," he said. "I want the people in Florida to have some say-so" in the state's March 10 primary.
His only jab at another candidate came when he noted his military service record, and said "the thought of trying to avoid the draft or not serving would never have occurred to me." It was an apparent reference to Bill Clinton, though Harkin refused to confirm afterward that he had aimed the remark at the Arkansas governor.
_ CURTIS KRUEGER