Terry Renna, Associated Press
BOCA RATON, Fla. — Joe Biden may just be the perfect pitchman for the senior vote.
Seeing Medicare as a window to gain new support, President Barack Obama's campaign dispatched the vice president to two sprawling Florida retirement communities Friday, hoping a white-haired 69-year-old running mate will be able to stir enthusiasm among seniors in Democrat-rich South Florida and tip the scales for the state's 29 electoral votes.
"It makes sense," says Charles Zeldon, a Nova Southeastern University expert on politics and voting. "He is one of them."
Well, at least closer than Obama, a generation younger.
That may give Biden an edge in helping the president chip into Republican Mitt Romney's lead among senior citizens, a key voting bloc not only in Florida but other battleground states such as Iowa and Ohio. The Democratic campaign doesn't expect to win the majority of senior, but hopes that lowering Romney's totals could make the difference in close states.
Biden has spent much of the campaign trying to shore up support among white, working class voters, another group where he has a more natural connection than Obama. He's aiming to use his same affable, plain-spoken style to persuade older voters to back Obama.
He stopped by a local deli later Friday, where he greeted a man who informed him he had once shaken the hand of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"I'm shaking a heckuva hand," Biden announced. The man identified himself to reporters as Seymour Maiman, 85, of Ft. Lauderdale.
Biden hit all the expected notes before a crowd of about 850 at Century Village in Boca Raton, a popular campaign stop for Democrats. He spoke of Obama as a defender of popular entitlement programs like Medicare, and portrayed the plans of Mitt Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan as harmful to seniors and their families.
"What they don't tell you, what they really don't want to talk about, is how they'd fundamentally change Medicare," Biden said. "They'd turn it into a voucher program."
When it comes to Medicare, the Republicans say the Democrats have it backward.
Ryan, speaking to an AARP conference last week, declared, "The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obamacare because it represents the worst of both worlds. It weakens Medicare for today's seniors and puts it at risk for the next generation."
"Who are you going to believe?" Biden asked on Friday after unleashing a barrage of criticism of Republican plans.
Ryan's Medicare proposals have been a frequent target for Democrats, but Biden went further, saying a vote for the GOP would also lead to hundreds of dollars in tax increases on seniors' Social Security benefits.
"They cannot possibly continue and add to the tax cuts for the super wealthy unless they eviscerate the rest of the budget," he said.
Again, the Romney camp said, Biden had it exactly wrong.
"Vice President Biden is using Social Security to fabricate the Obama campaign's latest false attacks," said spokesman Ryan Williams.
Inside the Century Village clubhouse, a Democratic-friendly but sometimes cantankerous crowd didn't muffle any complaints. "We can't hear you!" some shouted when the volume was too low. "Sit down!" when their view was obstructed. And, at least once, "This music is awful!"
But Biden was met with loud applause and beaming faces.
"I'm a Joe fan! I'm a Joe fan!" said Judy Cloutier, 66, who came to hear Biden speak. "He's such a down-to-earth man. He's like salt of the earth."
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