BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - Vice President Joe Biden opened a new phase in President Barack Obama 's reelection campaign here on Friday, warning seniors that in 2012 they face a stark choice between Democrats who want to protect Social Security and Medicare , and Republicans who supposedly would gut the programs to favor the rich.
The Republicans, Biden claimed to a crowd at the Wynmoor Village condominium community, "balance the budget on the backs of seniors and middle-class Americans. Why? So that they can preserve – this is so not your father's Republican Party – so that they can preserve a trillion-dollar tax cut, a new trillion-dollar tax cut, for the wealthiest Americans."
The Democratic view, Biden said, is that "every American, after a life time of hard work, should look forward to the security and dignity that Social Security and Medicare provide."
Republicans swiftly dismissed Biden's claims as partisan claptrap, but the vice president's foray into one of the many senior communities of South Florida highlighted the importance of the state's most important bloc of voters: the over 65s.
Without the backing of older voters, Biden and Obama can likely kiss Florida, and perhaps their hopes for a second term, goodbye.
The Wynmoor speech, Biden's only public event on Friday, was billed by the Obama campaign as the second of four major addresses the vice president is giving to frame the Democratic case for retaining the White House . The first was last week in Toledo, Ohio, like Florida a big state that could go either way in November.
Biden didn't live up to his reputation as a long-winded speaker, talking here for just 29 minutes. He used a soft, almost hushed voice when he leaned into the lectern and described his mother's need for costly health care at the end of her life, then veered to shouted denunciations of Republicans.
He jabbed at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney , frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. He sought to tie Romney to the recently published House Republican budget plan, something he said would turn Medicare into a voucher program that wouldn't keep up with the rising cost of health care.
"There is no daylight between Governor Romney and the Republican leaders on the most important issues facing this country. Not even Romney's Etch A Sketch can change that. He may buy a new one, but he can't do it," Biden said.
Local politicians and party activists were plentiful at the public gathering – sheriff candidates Louie Granteed and Scott Israel worked the crowd – but most of the 400 seats went to Wynmoor residents. Most seemed to adore Biden's message.
"It was phenomenal," said Esther Sabel, 75. "He dealt with things that are important to senior citizens today."
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart , a Miami Republican who represents part of South Broward, called the vice president's assertions nonsense. "Just like the story goes George Washington couldn't say a lie, it looks like this administration can't say anything that's true," he said.
"They can't talk about anything that they've done because every single thing that they've done has been, frankly, just disastrous, so then they have to go to very, very old and tired false attacks," Diaz-Balart said in a telephone interview. He wasn't present for the speech.
The congressman said the Obama administration's signature issue, overhauling the health care system, has actually robbed funding from Medicare, so that it is disingenuous to cast Republicans as the villains.
Republicans also pounced on Biden's failure to mention the controversial Affordable Care Act by name, even though Friday was the second anniversary of what the opposition party derides as "Obamacare."
"What a pathetic situation," Diaz-Balart said.
Though U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz , D- Weston , did tout the law by name just before Biden spoke, the vice president talked only about some of its popular provisions, such as the closure of the "doughnut hole" in prescription drug coverage, a change he said saved the average recipient $600 last year.
Obama hasn't always been popular in South Florida's big retiree-filled condo communities. One of his most prominent 2008 supporters was then-U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler , D- Boca Raton . Wynmoor, now home to about 8,500 people, a quarter of them seasonal snowbirds, once booed and jeered Wexler at a town hall meeting because of his support for Obama over Hillary Clinton.
But courting seniors has a big payoff: they come out on Election Day . In the last presidential election, 68.9 percent of Floridians 65 and older voted, compared to an overall 56.5 percent for all age groups.
"Investing in senior vote appearances is actually pretty good politics. The likelihood that they're going to turn out and vote is high and you want to make sure that they're going vote for you," said Kevin Wagner, a political scientist at Florida Atlantic University.
The vice president's ltime and attention show just how important the state's 29 electoral
votes are in deciding who wins the presidency
Sporting a button that declared, "When Broward Democrats Vote, America Wins," county Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar was blunt: "The senior vote is a critical element of the Democratic Party base."
After the speech, Democratic insiders said Biden attended a closed-door gathering of about 40 community leaders in Hollywood. A campaign spokesman said it wasn't a fundraiser.