ORMOND BEACH, Fla. — It looks as if John McCain wants to win the crucial battleground of central Florida by corralling as many "Joe the Plumbers" as he can.
McCain began a "Joe the Plumber" bus tour Thursday with a stop in this north-central beach community and released an ad called "I Am Joe." In his stump speech, he kept repeating the idea that Democrat Barack Obama wants to "spread the wealth around."
"He told Joe the Plumber in Ohio he wants to quote spread the wealth around. That's what Senator Obama wants to do," McCain told about 1,000 people at All-Star Building Materials, a local business. The crowd booed.
Tax cuts that passed in 2001 and 2003 are due to expire on Jan. 1, 2011. Obama would let the cuts affecting individuals who earn more than $200,000 and families that make more than $250,000 expire, in effect raising taxes on them. McCain wants them to continue. Obama says he'd cut taxes on 95 percent of the American people.
"Whether it's Joe the Plumber in Ohio or Joe here," the Arizona senator said, pointing to a man in the audience, "We shouldn't be taxing our small business more, as Senator Obama wants to do. We need to be helping them expand their businesses and create jobs."
Someone in the crowd hollered "socialist." Throughout the audience, the message was received warmly.
Howard Maines of Panama City owns two small businesses, and neither earns anywhere close to the amount that would trigger higher taxes under Obama's economic plan. Maines is firmly for McCain, however.
"I have potential to make over $250,000," said the owner of photography and metal detector businesses. "And when I do it's because I worked hard for it, and I know under McCain I'd get some tax relief."
McCain and Obama are in a virtual tie in Florida, polls find, and Republicans see the middle of Florida as the key battleground. Voting already has begun throughout the state.
That's why McCain was to spend his day later Thursday visiting smaller communities along the Interstate-4 corridor, stretching from Ormond Beach to Sarasota.
"Joe the Plumber" is the Ohio worker who told Obama that he hoped to buy a plumbing business and was concerned about the Democrat's tax plan.
It turned out that Joe isn't a licensed plumber and the business he's eyeing earns nowhere near the amount that would see higher taxes under the Illinois senator's plan. However, McCain seized on the encounter as proof that Obama wants to redistribute wealth on a grand scale, a notion that independent analysts have dispelled.
McCain talked about the businesses that "Joe and you dream of owning," and suggested that Obama would lead the country into another Great Depression.
"I won't make the same mistakes Senator Obama is ready to repeat," McCain said.
The words resonated.
"Obama wants to take care of everyone else. We need to take care of ourselves," said Gretchen McKenzie, an Ormond Beach retiree.
"Obama's plan is deceptive," added Al Kerling, a Holly Hill retiree. "He's talking about giving tax breaks to 95 percent of the population, but half of them don't pay income tax now anyway."
Business owners were particularly concerned.
"He wants to change things too quickly, and we're at a point in the economy where things are moving very fast. We need a midpoint, a way to slow down the change," said Nick Sergi, who runs an aviation consulting business.
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