Hallandale Beach: Joe Biden scolded Republicans on social spending issues Tuesday in popular retirement spot Florida as the US president makes his closing pitch ahead of next week’s midterm elections.
Facing signs of a growing “red wave” that could sweep the opposition Republicans to power in the House and Senate, Biden portrayed himself as “middle-class” Joe as he attempts - with mixed success - to court the blue-collar vote.
“You’ve been paying for Social Security your whole life,” the Democratic leader said, speaking in the coastal city of Hallandale Beach, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Miami.
“You earned it,” he said, referring to the benefits programme for retirees. “Now these guys want to take it away. Who in the hell do they think they are?”
He warned against a proposal from Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott, who suggested putting Social Security - which began in the 1930s - and Medicare - the state-funded health insurance for people over 65, which has been in place since the 1960s - to a congressional vote every five years.
Biden, 79, had been promising since a trip was cancelled by a hurricane to go to Florida, a traditional “swing state” that has leaned more solidly into the conservative column in recent cycles, and where 21 percent of residents are older than 65.
“Those are more than government programmes,” he added during the speech.
“They are a promise. A promise we made as a country: if you work hard and contribute when it comes time to retire, we’re going to be there for you.”
Biden closed out his speech with a wish: “God bless you all; God protect our troops, and God give some of our Republican friends some enlightenment.”
Later during an address at Florida Memorial University in Miami, he laid out his administration’s reforms on drug and hearing aid prices, airline hidden fees and student debt forgiveness, while hammering Republicans as being in the pockets of “Big Pharma” and the rest of corporate America.
If Republicans seize control of Congress, “many of the biggest corporations will go back to paying zero taxes,” Biden said.
“It’s reckless, it’s irresponsible, it will make inflation worse, (and) it will badly hurt working class and middle class Americans.”
Biden played up his blue-collar roots, reminding attendees that “like many of you I come from a normal middle-class family.
“We know what it’s like when hard times hit,” he said. “We get it.”
Biden also donned his Democratic leadership hat for fundraising events for his party’s Florida gubernatorial and Senate candidates, who are both expected to lose.
The White House hopes the visit will nevertheless help in portraying the Republican Party as a threat to middle-class households and seniors.
Political scientist Aubrey Jewett said the Republicans had done a good job of convincing much of the Hispanic community - which makes up more than a quarter of the state’s 22 million population - to switch allegiance.
Former president Donald Trump and Governor Ron DeSantis, his one-time protege turned rival, have shrewdly played on Hispanics’ fear of communism, the University of Central Florida professor told AFP.
“That got a certain percentage of Hispanics who thought, ‘We didn’t come to this country and flee Cuba or South America to come here and get the same thing.’”
Biden has been relatively quiet during the campaign for the midterms, which are expected to hand the House of Representatives back to the Republicans, who would also take the evenly divided Senate with just one pick-up.
Reproductive rights once appeared to be the issue that would decide the election. Voter registrations, particularly among women, surged after the US Supreme Court ended federal protections for abortion access in June.
But it has lost salience as a campaign issue, sparking concern among Democrats that they may have relied too heavily on the subject to the detriment of “kitchen table” fare like inflation and crime.
The party has tried to pivot in the closing weeks of the campaign, but soaring consumer prices - up 8.2 percent in a year - have undermined Biden’s attempt to sell himself as the president for the American worker.
The Democrats have called on former president Barack Obama, still the party’s biggest draw, to mobilize the troops.
The pair are scheduled to appear together Saturday in hotly-contested Pennsylvania.