President Barack Obama will hold a town hall meeting at a high school, tout job creation in a speech at CityCenter and attend a $1 million Democratic fundraiser in a visit this week that comes after he twice singled out Las Vegas as a place not to spend money during economic hard times.
Obama's Southern Nevada swing Thursday and Friday is aimed partly at boosting the re-election chances of Sen. Harry Reid. The Democratic Senate majority leader's political future is in jeopardy after leading the stalled White House effort in Congress to pass health care reform.
The president also may make a personal apology to Las Vegans for using the city as a punching bag in comments he made this month and a year ago about how Americans and corporations looking to tighten their belts should avoid dumping dollars into the city's visitor-dependent economy.
"I do believe you will see an apology come out of his lips," said Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada. "He'll say twice I said something about Las Vegas and twice I got sent to the principal's office. But then he'll probably say something more serious to apologize."
The White House planned to release details of Obama's visit today, but officials familiar with the tentative plans confirmed the broad outlines of what he's expected to do.
Obama is scheduled to arrive Thursday evening and attend a closed fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at the Southern Highlands home of George Maloof, owner of the Palms hotel and casino where Paris Hilton and other young stars and Hollywood elite like to party. Southern Highlands is a wealthy gated community in the south valley, just west of Interstate 15.
About 45 people are invited to the fundraiser, with donors asked to pay up to a maximum of $30,000 a head, with the goal of raising at least $1 million for the DNC, said one person familiar with the fundraising effort and speaking on condition of anonymity because nothing had been announced.
Maloof said he was pleased to host Obama. The casino chief has a history of donating money to the Democratic Party and candidates, including Reid. In September, however, he gave $2,400 to the U.S. Senate campaign of Danny Tarkanian, one of the leading Republicans running in the primary race in a bid to unseat Reid, according to federal election records.
"I think it's an honor to host the president at my house," Maloof told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, but he refused to discuss his personal politics. "I'll just say this is an honor."
On Friday morning, Obama is expected to hold a town hall meeting at Green Valley High School. The president is reaching out more these days to Americans and the Republican Party after a year of seeing his popularity plummet as people grew disenchanted with the Democratic Party, the health care debate and the seeming inability of Washington to solve the nation's economic crisis.
Republicans, taking advantage of voter discontent, managed to win U.S. Senate elections in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts and governors races in Virginia and New Jersey.
"I think the town hall meeting is more about trying to push his bipartisan agenda. I think he wants to show that he's in touch with the American people," Peplowski said of the president.
Obama's planned CityCenter visit is overdue. He was scheduled to come to Las Vegas for the mega-opening in December, but he was delayed by the health care debate and then a failed terrorist attempt to bring down an American passenger airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day.
On Friday, the president -- with Reid in tow -- is scheduled to meet with workers at CityCenter, the $8.4 billion project that has been promoted as the greatest hope for bringing Las Vegas back from the economic brink, a downturn that has created 13 percent unemployment in the state.
A presidential speech to business leaders is planned inside the 61-story Aria, the hotel-casino centerpiece of the project, which is expected to create 12,000 permanent jobs.
Reid and the MGM Mirage said the senator helped salvage CityCenter by calling banks to encourage continued financing, according to a campaign ad the senator has aired.
Obama may get a mixed reaction since his visit comes two weeks after he put his foot in his mouth again about Las Vegas during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. His remarks raised the hackles of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who expressed a desire to give the president "the boot" for his remarks.
"When times are tough, you tighten your belts," Obama said. "You don't go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you're trying to save for college."
Reid rebuked Obama, something he didn't do a year ago when the president criticized Wall Street in a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., saying, "You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime."
"While the President is correct that people saving for college need to be fiscally responsible, the President needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn't be spending their money," Reid said in a statement after Obama's New Hampshire remarks. "Nevada is the nation's top destination for tourism and conventions. It is more popular than any other place in the country, and for good reason: it's affordable, easy to get to from anywhere and the weather is perfect.''
The Las Vegas forecast for Thursday and Friday is sunny with a high of 68 and a low of 47. In Washington, where heavy snowfall last week put the nation's capital on ice, the forecast at the end of the week is partly cloudy, with highs in the low 40s and lows in the low 20s.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.