Obama visit: A tale of two story lines


With President Obama arriving in Las Vegas tonight, reporters are following two distinct story lines (three if you include the inevitable traffic tie-ups).

First, Obama is here for a big fund-raiser at Caesars Palace for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The event, which includes performances by Sheryl Crow, Bette Midler, Rita Rudner and Clint Holmes, is expected to raise $2 million for Reid’s re-election campaign.

The event is designed to boost Reid’s campaign coffers as well as his local profile, which, according to a recent Review-Journal poll, could use some work. Nationally, Republicans are targeting Reid as vulnerable in 2010.

I’m not sure Reid is as vulnerable as some conservatives would like to believe, especially since he plans to spend $25 million on his re-election effort, the state Democratic organization (thanks to Obama) is vast and enthusiastic, and the GOP does not appear to have a strong candidate to challenge him.

Although it would be political insanity for Nevada voters to oust Reid when he is one of the most powerful politicians on the planet, there certainly are precedents for this kind of thing. Tom Daschle was the Senate’s majority leader when he lost a few years ago in South Dakota. In the 1980s, Nevadans dumped longtime Democratic Sen. Howard Cannon in favor of neophyte Republican Chic Hecht, essentially triggering the Yucca Mountain battle of the past 20 years.

The other story line is what Obama will say about Las Vegas tourism. Obama never criticized Las Vegas, but he riled local tourism officials and politicians when he said it was not appropriate for banks receiving government bailouts to continue sending employees on junkets to Las Vegas.

Obama wasn’t even wrong in what he said. Even if I live in Las Vegas, I don’t think bailout money should be used to treat these folks to good times on the Strip. But after Obama’s comment, Las Vegas saw a sharp reduction in convention and conference business, attributable, at least in part, to Obama’s admonition.

Tonight, everyone expects Obama to say nice things about Las Vegas and in the process smooth the ruffled feathers of Mayor Oscar Goodman and others.

Bottom line: Obama is going to do what it takes to keep Reid in the majority leader’s seat, and he’s going to do his part to revive Las Vegas tourism.