With the Nov. 6 election less than three weeks away, and with Florida still chased by the campaigns as a swing state, both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan pitched their presidential tickets today at different ends of Hillsborough County.
Vice President Biden roused more than 1,100 people packed into the Community Hall at the Sun City Community Center with a warning that Mitt Romney would be a "catastrophe" for the middle class and is unsympathetic to women's rights.
But he spent much of his speech to the largely retiree audience on Medicare, telling them Obama's health care reform proposal has strengthened the program financially while pulling many of them out of the "donut hole" in prescription drug coverage.
The Romney and Ryan budget plans, he said, would reopen that hole and replace their Medicare coverage with "a chit" that's not likely to be enough to buy coverage.
The appearance was part of a swarm of appearances by Obama, Romney and their family members and surrogates planned for Florida this week and next week, as Obama seeks to deny Romney victory in a state he can't afford to lose.
Ryan made a stop at the University of South Florida today, before he and Romney appeared together in Daytona Beach.
Ann Romney made a couple of stops in Jacksonville today, and will hit Orlando and Boca Raton Saturday, and Obama will speak in Delray Beach Tuesday.
In Sun City Center, Biden blasted Romney as a flip-flopper.
He noted that Obama has called Romney's economic and tax plans "sketchy," and said, "I'm reluctant to correct the president … but they're not sketchy, they're etch-a-sketchy."
"I've never seen a man move on so many fundamental issues in four to six years in my life," Biden said of Romney.
Of Romney's economic and tax proposals, he said, "We've seen this movie before – it ends in a catastrophe for the middle class."
Democrats who drove down Pebble Beach Boulevard in Sun City Center to the event had to run a gantlet of Republicans waving Romney signs at nearly every intersection; some had signs mounted on bicycles or the ubiquitous Sun City Center golf carts.
This large, planned retirement community has an active Democratic Party, but they're outnumbered by Republicans. Voter registration in the eight Sun City Center precincts is Republicans, 8,032; Democrats, 4,979; and minor party or no party, 4,292, according to figures from the Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor's Office.
In 2008, those precincts voted 11,420 to 7,687 for John McCain over President Barack Obama.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who spoke before Biden and stood on stage behind him during the speech, told reporters he's not dismayed by the signs of GOP enthusiasm.
"That's all staged," he said, recounting his campaign kickoff rally with Jimmy Buffett in an even more solidly Republican area, The Villages. "We had 500 people rocking and rolling and hungry for the truth," he said.
Sun City Center resident Susie Carr said it's sometimes awkward being a Democrat in the heavily GOP area.
"When I drove in this morning, people yelling for Romney were so aggressive," she said. "I can't believe the hostility in this election – it's like I've never seen.
"I try to remember that when we wake up tomorrow, we're still neighbors."
In Tampa, vice presidential candidate Ryan told University of South Florida staff, students and alumni that entrepreneurship is the "engine of opportunity of America," and a Romney-Ryan administration would clear the barriers that keep innovators from succeeding.
The event Friday at USF's Alumni Center was technically not a campaign stop. It was billed as a discussion among businesspeople, faculty, alumni and students about entrepreneurship and starting businesses.
There was polite applause as Ryan entered the building, but no sign-waving, cheering, or partisan displays.
Nonetheless, without naming President Obama directly, Ryan deftly wove criticism of the status quo into his remarks.
"When you have chronic high unemployment, and young people coming out of school with no opportunity, we have a serial problem that needs to be fixed," Ryan said. "And it seems to me that entrepreneurship and small business is a critical component of that, because that's where most of the jobs come from. It seems to us, clear the barriers, and reduce the hurdles that make it hard for small businesses to be viable."
Ryan heard suggestions from students, faculty and alumni on how to help entrepreneurs succeed. He assured the nine people at the head table and an audience of 150 that "we" – presumably, a Romney-Ryan administration – would tackle the impediments to success.
Ryan had a lengthy give-and-take with Daniel Devers, who runs Intezyne Technologies, with Devers asking what government can do to loosen up funding – not just from government, but from Wall Street and venture capitalists.
Ryan said with a credit crunch and potentially higher tax rates on the horizon, "we see a climate of uncertainty." And that uncertainty "seems to be putting a chilling effect on risk capital."
USF student Brian Goff asked Ryan what could be done to make his own – and his fellow USF students' – job outlooks brighter.
The answer, Ryan said, is economic growth. "There is really no magic bullet substitute to getting the basic foundations right to get our economy growing," he said.
A Romney-Ryan administration would focus on taxes, regulation and spending, he said. "If you get that right, you grow the economy, and entrepreneurs are more confident, small banks are viable and more willing to take a risk, and new businesses hire people," Ryan said.
After the discussion, Devers said he was impressed with the Republican congressman from Wisconsin. "He gets it," Devers said. "But the devil is in the details."
The event was held in part to celebrate USF's Center for Entrepreneurship being named the No. 11 graduate entrepreneurship program in the nation. That distinction came from Entrepreneur Magazine and the Princeton Review.