Las Vegan named co-chair of Obama re-election campaign

It all started with a chicken salad sandwich.

And now, four years later, Loretta Harper of Las Vegas is a newly named national co-chair of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Harper said she’s "a born Democrat" but had never volunteered for a presidential campaign until she heard Obama speak in Las Vegas in January of 2008 at Del Sol High School. Her friend had invited Harper to come along, telling her, "You’ve got to hear this man."

"I’m originally from Chicago, but I left back in 1972 and so I had never heard of this senator from Illinois," Harper said in an interview. "My friend said, 'Come on, I’ll buy you lunch,'" a chicken salad sandwich.

"That day my life was changed forever," said Harper, who was asked to volunteer for Obama’s campaign and hasn’t looked back. "Nobody ever asked me before. That was the best decision I ever made in my life."

Harper shook Obama’s hand that day in 2008 for the first time. She met him again in October of 2011, when he visited Las Vegas to offer help for homeowners and to raise money for his 2012 re-election, she said.

"I told him I was in for the long haul," Harper said. "We’ve got to get him re-elected so he can finish what he started on health care, education, the economy."

On Wednesday, the Obama for America organization was naming Harper a national co-chair of his campaign.

Harper, 58, is a counselor at Desert Pines High School. She’s also a member of the Board of Directors of the Nevada State Educators Association.

During the 2008 Obama campaign, when he won Nevada on his way to the presidency, Harper said she got more than 100 students extra credit when they volunteered to help elect the Democrat.

Since then, she has held countless house parties at her home, run phone banks and become a neighborhood team leader as part of the Obama campaign, which works like a community organizing operation.

As one of Obama’s national co-chairs, Harper will work to mobilize and organize his supporters in Nevada to support him on Election Day, she said.

The job will be tougher in 2012 given the Silver State’s high unemployment rate -- now 12.6 percent and still the highest in the nation. Also, the home foreclosure crisis isn’t getting better any time soon, it appears.

"This is really the first political involvement of my life," Harper said. "I got really excited by his vision, what he wants to do with health care and education and the DREAM Act," which would give children of illegal immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship. "I’m passionate now about getting the president re-elected."