COLUMBIA — Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden spoke to a crowd of about 700 people Tuesday morning at the Activity and Recreation Center's converted gymnasium.
Biden's speech focused on economic issues. And he listed proposals backed by him and presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama to help middle-class Americans suffering from increased layoffs, high medical expenses and the rising cost of higher education.
"To us, these are not statistics, they are individual people, individual people whose lives have been shattered," Biden said.
After his speech, which ran about 40 minutes and was frequently interrupted by applause and standing ovations, Biden also took questions from five members of the audience.
State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, and the Democratic candidate for Missouri's 9th Congressional District, was one of several people who introduced Biden. She called on Missouri voters to support the Obama-Biden campaign.
"We promise Missouri is going to send you some fighters to bring about the change we need," Baker said. "Not only do we want change, Missouri needs change, and America needs change."
Biden, taking up the theme of change that has defined the Obama campaign, said that while he never aspired to be vice president, he jumped at the chance to be a part of "the team that is about to make history."
He criticized the Republican opposition - Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin - for only recently making change a tenet of its own campaign.
"John must have been the last guy in American politics to realize this is about change," Biden said. Biden said no speech delivered at the Republican National Convention addressed the issues most vital to the American middle class.
Biden also spoke at length about how the government can and should deal with the outsourcing trend and about strategies for keeping jobs within America's borders. He localized the issue of outsourced jobs by referring to the Belgian company InBev's pending takeover of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch.
"Ladies and gentlemen, there is too much anxiety," he said. "There is too much of a lack of a sense of what is going to happen."
Biden also refuted McCain's claim that Obama and Biden will raise taxes, saying their economic plan will actually lower taxes for 95 percent of the population.
Biden closed his speech by calling upon Missourians to swing in the direction of the Obama-Biden campaign.
"America's ready to get back up," he said. "I'm ready. Barack's ready. Time to get up!"
In the question-and-answer period, Biden handed his microphone to Sharon Giles, a mother of six worried about the financial strain her fifth child's education is putting on her family and about the future of her youngest child.
"We know education is the only way to move forward in this country," Giles told Biden, drawing more applause from the crowd.
Biden agreed: "Any country that out-educates us will out-compete us."
He pledged that under an Obama-Biden administration, families would receive a $4,000 tax credit for every child enrolled in higher education. He also said his administration would pay for the college education of any young person involved in public or military service.
Another woman asked Biden what the government would do to protect the financial security of older Americans. Biden replied that any person on Social Security who earns less than $50,000 a year would not have to pay any federal tax or even file a tax form.
He also addressed concerns about health-care costs, saying an Obama-Biden administration would be committed to providing paid leave to those who need to take care of sick family members. He also promised to close the "doughnut hole," referring to the gap in government aid for those who have prescription drug bills between $800 and $3,850.
The crowd estimate for Biden's visit came from Jean Weinberg, regional press secretary for the Obama campaign. Reactions to Biden's speech were favorable.
Jefferson City resident Randy Halsey, 76, who served on the Jefferson City Council for 18 years, said he was impressed with the substance of Biden's remarks.
"He talked about things that affect 95 percent of us rather than 5 percent of us."