TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Floridians should expect to see Vice President Joe Biden a lot over the next three months.
During a stop Friday in Tallahassee, Biden said he intends to spend more time campaigning in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and congressional candidates.
"These are the states that are going to determine the outcome of this election," Biden said as he picked up a late lunch at a popular restaurant near the Florida A&M University campus south of the state Capitol.
"Florida is always in play and always important, but it's particularly important this year," Biden said. "But it doesn't take much to convince me to come to Florida."
The fried-chicken meal came between a Tallahassee campaign event for Congressman Patrick Murphy, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and an event scheduled later in the day in Coconut Grove for the re-election bid of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Murphy is seeking to unseat Republican Marco Rubio in a race that could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate after the November elections. That was the focus of the first part of the day for Biden, who attended a fundraiser for Murphy at the home of personal-injury attorney Don Hinkle.
Murphy must still get through a primary that features four opponents, including U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. But Biden clearly appeared more concerned with the general election after briefly chatting with the owner and diners at Olean's Cafe.
"It's really important that we win back the United States Senate," Biden said. "No matter what the outcome of the presidential (election), and I think we're going to do well in the presidential, but there is so much at stake in terms of the Senate."
Rubio has held comfortable leads in polls. But asked about being able to defeat the incumbent, Biden said he believes Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump may prove to be a drag on down-ballot GOP candidates.
Biden said Trump is "pandering to fear and a sort of hostility."
"Our economy is larger than any economy in the world, it's stronger than any economy in the world, it doesn't mean there aren't headwinds out there," Biden said. "He (Trump) talks about our military, that he's going to make it great again. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations in the world combined. Combined. It's the finest fighting force in the history of the world. That is not hyperbole. That is a natural fact."
Olean McCaskill, owner of the restaurant that has offered an "Obama Breakfast Special" since President Barack Obama first ran for the White House, said she was so excited she forgot to have Biden sign the $20 bill he left as a tip.
"This has been a wonderful experience," McCaskill said. "I am so grateful and elated that the vice president has come to Olean's."
Murphy called it "humbling" to have the White House support in the Senate race.
While Biden was in Tallahassee, Grayson's campaign sent out a release calling Murphy "Obama's Judas" for having voted about 65 times against the desires of the White House.
"Patrick helped Republicans smear Secretary Clinton by voting to create the Benghazi Committee, and Murphy actually joined with the radical right in rebuking President Obama over the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange," Grayson's campaign manager Michael Ceraso said in a release. "Patrick can't be counted on to have any White House Democrat's back."
But apparently the White House disagrees.
"He's smart as hell for one. Number two he is a CPA," Biden said in reference to reports that have questioned Murphy's experience as a certified public accountant. "It's all part of the game too. I just want him counting the dollars in the Senate."
The Democratic establishment has rallied around Murphy, who has been under fire from Grayson and Republican groups about allegations of resume padding.
In addition to Biden's trips, Obama has headlined a fundraiser in Miami for Murphy and appeared in a campaign ad on Murphy's behalf.
Other party leaders also have not been shy about supporting Murphy. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has openly acknowledged disdain for Grayson.
While Murphy has been ahead in primary polls, he and Grayson lag behind Rubio in hypothetical head-to-head contests, according to a Suffolk University poll releasedÂ Thursday.
Rubio led Murphy 46 percent to 33 percent and led Grayson by a margin of 45 percent to 31 percent, according to the Suffolk poll. In both scenarios about 20 percent of the likely voters remained undecided.