JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Likening the November election to “reclaiming America’s soul, for real,” former Vice President Joe Biden held a crowd of supporters spellbound Monday as he shared a stage with Florida’s top two Democratic candidates as early voting started in many parts of the state.
“I think there’s something different about this election,” Biden, who was introduced by gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum as “the coolest man on Planet Earth,” said. “This election is bigger than politics, I mean, for real.”
Afternoon rallies and the University of North Florida and the University of South Florida followed a nationally televised debate Sunday night between Gillum, who is seeking to make history as the state’s first black governor, and Ron DeSantis, a former congressman who parlayed his endorsement by President Donald Trump into a decisive Republican primary victory in August.
Biden joined Gillum and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson onstage in South Florida, delivering a speech in which he hammered President Donald Trump, DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott, who is trying to unseat Nelson.
Biden seesawed between painting a frightening picture of the nation’s future if left in Republicans’ hands and a more positive vision if Democrats were to regain control.
“This is all about a president who’s trying to amass power so he can abuse power,” Biden said, as people periodically encouraged him to run for president by shouting “2020!”
Biden, who hailed Gillum as “one of the most exciting, new, young leaders in the nation,” said he and former President Barack Obama followed the lead of previous administrations by remaining on the sidelines throughout Trump’s first year in office.
The former vice president told students at UNF to keep their passionate support for the Democratic party going. The message resonated with Connie Walker, who attended the rally.
"Coming to the rally was everything. Point blank. Period. It was an honor," said Walker.
Biden also heaped praise on Nelson, who has spent almost 18 years in the Senate but is facing a tough challenge from Scott. Biden, in part, praised Nelson for voting in favor of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature legislation that has been a frequent target of Republicans. Scott made his foray into politics as an opponent of the health-care overhaul.
Nelson’s vote in support of what is known as “Obamacare” gave “tens of millions of people piece of mind,” Biden said.
“I have never met anyone with more character, courage and decency than Bill Nelson,” Biden, wearing a plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up and navy trousers, said to cheers.
Biden encouraged voters to “reset the moral compass” at the polls.
“Our children are listening, and our silence is complicit,” he warned. “It’s about dreaming again. It’s about possibilities. … Let’s take it back.”
Appealing especially to millennials, Gillum is one of the youngest candidates for statewide office. While at UNF, Tallahassee's mayor earned cheers with nearly every sentence.
Gillum delivered a familiar stump speech, touching on education, health care, the environment and criminal-justice reform to the crowd that was a mix of students and older supporters. As he almost always does, Gillum shared his personal story of coming from a working-class family in which he, as the fifth of seven children, was the first to graduate from high school and, later, college.
"As proud as I am of being Tallahassee’s mayor, it is my sincere hope that the next time I greet you, I will greet you as the next governor of the great state of Florida," Gillum said.
Biden will continue campaigning with Nelson on Tuesday morning. They will attend rallies in Tallahassee and Orlando.
The Republican party responded to the former vice-president’s appearance for Nelson and Gillum, saying he was “wasting his time.”
“The Republican Party is more unified than ever in the Sunshine State thanks to the success of economic growth under Governor Scott’s leadership. While Biden was attempting to gin up support for an unhinged Democratic Party, Republicans were rallying behind our proven Republican leaders who have fought hard to get Floridians back to work,” Republican National Committee spokesman Joe Jackson said in a statement.
Republicans raising funds, earning votes
DeSantis' running mate, Jeanette Nunez, was in Jacksonville on Monday for a private event at Havana Jax in St. Nicholas.
"Jacksonville is a wonderful community, it's a business community, it's an area where we've seen what good policies can do," Nunez said. "We want to make sure we continue to push forward good policies for our economy, for our education, for our environment."
Around the time of the event, Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels announced his support for DeSantis on Twitter.
DeSantis will be in the River City on Tuesday, speaking at the Jacksonville Veteran's Memorial Arena. After campaigning at a church in Orlando and a restaurant in Miami, DeSantis will return to Jacksonville on Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
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