“We shouldn’t be taxing our small businesses more, as Senator Obama wants to do. We need to be helping them expand their businesses and create jobs,” said McCain, continuing several days of attacks on the Democratic candidate’s economic plans.
Today’s outing was dubbed the “Joe the Plumber Tour,” after the Ohio voter who critically questioned Barack Obama’s tax plans and became a rhetorical fixture in the last presidential debate. Joe’s complaints have become a recurring theme for McCain in the final weeks of the 2008 race. Today, he was on the prowl for all sorts of small business owners who he could elevate to Everyman status, signaling out “David The Dentist” at a stop at Coatom Periodontal in Altamonte Springs.
“His name is Richard, but he’s Joe The Plumber,” McCain said of Richard Rivers, the owner of a floral shop who he met at the The Starlite Diner in Daytona Beach.
Supporters warmed to the theme.
“I think there are a lot of Joe the Plumbers out there,” said Bob Long, a McCain supporter who owns Marine Concepts in Sarasota, Florida. “They started calling me Bob the Boat Builder.”
The campaign announced what it called a coalition of dozens of “Joe the Plumbers” — small businesses owners who support McCain’s economic plans. Some followed the Straight Talk Express, McCain’s bus, as it crossed the state.
Polls in Florida, a key battleground state, have tightened since Labor Day, a development that tracks the melt-down in the country’s financial system.
The economic crisis has hit Florida voters particularly hard. In September, Florida had the second-highest rate of foreclosures in the nation. And market turmoil has Florida’s retirees, who accounts for 19 percent of the state’s population and roughly 40 percent of its registered voters, anxiously watching their portfolios.
That provided an opportunity for Obama, who flooded the state with ads, volunteers, and lawyers. He has outspent McCain three to one on advertising in Florida. And the Democratic campaign expects to field 5,000 lawyers, law students and paralegals at Florida polls on Election Day, more than in any other state, to avoid a repeat of the legal problems that plagued voting here in the 2000 election.
Polls show that Obama’s efforts are having an impact in Florida, which hasn’t awarded its 27 electoral votes to a Democrat since 1996. On Wednesday, a new NBC/Mason-Dixon poll showed the candidates in almost a dead-heat, with McCain leading by only one point.
More than 150,000 Florida voters cast ballots during the first two days of early voting, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
But McCain said he felt confident about his chances in the state.
“I’m happy with the polling numbers,” he told reporters on a day that his bus travelled the I-4 corridor, a critical battleground region that traverses the central part of Florida and is home to a large percentage of its unaffiliated voters. “It’s going to be a battleground state.”
An energetic McCain started the day at a lively rally in Ormond Beach, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. A crowd of several thousand lofted signs reading “Don’t Spred [sic] The Wealth” and “No Socialism.”
“I’m glad to be back in Florida, where I spent part of my navy career and loved every minute of it,” said McCain. He then laid into a harsh attacks against Obama, claiming, “He’ll say anything to get elected.”
McCain was accompanied by Florida Gov. Carlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), both of whom back McCain in the state’s hotly-contested Republican primary. Crist also released a radio ad on Wednesday supporting McCain.
“John McCain knows that people don't want to ‘spread the wealth,’" Crist said in the ad. “He knows that Congress should let you keep more of your money, and not take it away.” The ad was referring to the remark by Obama to Ohio voter Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, that “when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
McCain’s entourage stopped for lunch at Mi Viejo San Juan in Orlando, sharing a family-style meal of chicken, flank steak, beans and rice with Ramon Ojeda, president of the Orlando area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Martinez said that whenever he visits the Puerto Rican restaurant during a campaign, he wins on Election Day.
Dessert was strawberry shortcake at Parksdale Farms, an open air produce and sundae stand in conservative Hillsborough county, a area won twice by President Bush that’s critical for McCain.
“This is the kind of family business that we need to support,” said McCain. “We just met with people who have a number of employees [and] they’re worried about having to lay them off in return for Sen. Obama’s tax plans.”
McCain ended his day in Sarasota on Florida’s west coast.
“Whether it’s Joe the plumber in Ohio or Gary the Dentist in Altamonte Springs. or Jesus the restaurant owner in Orlando, or Christine the florist in Plant City, or Bob the Boat Builder, or Tony the teacher, we shouldn’t be taxing our small business like Sen. Obama wants to do,” McCain said.