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In Tampa stop, Jill Biden campaigns for veterans and says president is 'all in'

First Lady Jill Biden speaks to the crowd at the American Legion hall in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF
First Lady Jill Biden speaks to the crowd at the American Legion hall in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood

First Lady Jill Biden kicked off a campaign targeting veterans and their families Monday in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood before addressing calls for President Joe Biden to step down after his debate performance last week.

Biden gave an energetic speech to about 100 people crowded into the American Legion post.

She talked about President Joe Biden's work with military families and his son Beau's service in the Iraq war. She followed her appearance with stops in Georgia and North Carolina — two states that have large veteran populations.

 "Today, we are launching Veterans and Military Families for Biden because we need you in this election to help us make sure that everyone in this community has the ballots they need to vote no matter where they are stationed," Jill Biden said.

RELATED: Biden tells Democrats he's not leaving the race, and it's time to stop talking about it

 But she only briefly touched on her husband's pledge to stay in the race.

Biden said the president has made it clear he is "all in" in his re-election bid, despite his lackluster performance in the recent debate.

Her comment sparked chants of "four more years" from the crowd.

Supporters express their doubts

Several of the people who showed up at the American Legion post had varied opinions on the president in the wake of his faltering debate against Donald Trump.

Jay Chetney of St. Petersburg said he was discouraged by the debate, but he says he chalked it up to Biden being "overprepared."

"Well, I was very discouraged by the debate. I was not expecting that. I was not prepared and I knew it was going downhill from the second he came out," Chetney said. "But, I'm back on board and I really appreciate what he's been doing the last day or two, you know, really speaking out."

Eunice Butts of Tampa is a past commander with the Florida American Legion. She also said Biden should be allowed to rebound from a bad day.

"Everyone gets ill, everyone gets sick and everyone has their moments," she said. "So therefore, I think he should be given the opportunity until such time as if he should become ill.

Eunice Butts, past commander of the American Legion of Florida, at the event.
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF
Eunice Butts, past commander of the American Legion of Florida, at the event.

Butts also said the talk of Biden withdrawing from the race only helps the Republicans.

"I personally feel that the Republicans are trying to push him out with any type of gossip that they can get out in the public," Butts said. 

Florida Republican Party questions her appearance

Jonathon Chavez of Tampa says all the talk about Biden being too old for the job could become a "self-fulfilling prophecy."

"I thought those first few days that, you know, the talk of him maybe needing to step down was a little bit overblown," Chavez said. "But as that conversation has kind of continued for this entire week afterwards, I'm thinking it's starting to become something of a self fulfilling prophecy, right? Like people say he can't do it. And this is now the image that he has that, oh, maybe he's not, you know, he is too old, maybe he can't do it."

RELATED: Congressional Democrats are divided over Biden's future after debate performance

"Personally, I like Joe," said Chavez, who is running for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission as a Democrat. "I would be happy to see him run again if the decision either from him or the party is maybe we need a new guy. Then we'll have to go to the drawing board. We might have an open convention. Wouldn't that be something?"

Still, Chavez said there should be age limits for most elected offices.

The Republican Party of Florida issued a statement after Jill Biden's address that she is campaigning because she "may embarrass Democrats" less than her husband.

“Florida is the most military and veteran friendly state in the nation thanks to common sense, conservative Republican policies," state Republican chair Evan Power wrote. "You won’t find President Trump abandoning our troops in a foreign country like Biden did in Afghanistan and later lie about it. Unlike Joe Biden, Florida members of the military and veterans have good memories."

Jill Biden gladhands the crowd after her speech .
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF
Jill Biden gladhands the crowd after her speech .

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.