Don't blame Harry Reid for the economic downturn. And don't punish him in November.
That was the main message President Bill Clinton delivered Thursday at a campaign rally for an absent Reid, the Democratic incumbent in a tough fight to keep his powerful Senate seat.
"Why would you give away the Senate majority leader who has delivered time and time and time again for the people of Nevada?" Clinton asked in a 30-minute speech that was interrupted at the end by a power outage that made his microphone go dead.
Clinton, looking and sounding like a Southern preacher with his tan summer suit and stark white hair, continued speaking under dim emergency lights, his hoarse voice rising above the dying air conditioners inside the gym at the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy.
He said Nevadans are right to be mad about record high unemployment and home foreclosures, but he said voters shouldn't take out their anger on Reid and the Democrats because it was the Republican administration that followed Clinton that caused the economic crisis.
"It's not his fault," Clinton said of Reid, explaining that the stimulus bill attacked by GOP critics is meant to get the country out of an economic hole. "Harry Reid is doing what he can to get us back on our feet."
More than 700 mostly Democratic supporters cheered the popular 42nd president, the latest high-profile visitor to Nevada to bolster Reid's re-election bid. First lady Michelle Obama came to Las Vegas and Reno last week to appear with Reid. President Barack Obama came in February.
The crowd waved "Harry Reid for Senate signs" on cue for the cameras after organizers urged them to show a little spirit before Clinton took the stage, which was decorated with more Reid signs. "We Are Family," a song from the late 1970s, played.
Lanese Kelsey was among those in the audience who said the Democratic Party called to invite her because she helped campaign for Obama two years ago and was a Reid supporter.
"I just like Senator Reid, and I wanted to see President Clinton," Kelsey said.
Rousing the crowd, Clinton said voters have a stark choice between Reid and his Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, a staunch conservative who Democrats have labeled "dangerous" and "extreme" because she wants to shrink government and eliminate some federal programs.
Clinton made fun of Angle, saying she has disappeared from public view and has been ducking tough questions about her views since she won the GOP nomination in Tuesday's primary.
Recalling the children's books and games "Where's Waldo?" Clinton joked, "Now you've got to play 'Where's Sharron?' because she's hiding out, according to the local news. I might hide out, too, if I said I wanted to get rid of Social Security and Medicare."
He also criticized Angle for suggesting Nevada accept the use of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump site, something Reid has successfully fought for years.
Angle has said she wants to turn Yucca Mountain into a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, which would bring waste to the state. The former Reno assemblywoman also has said she wants to privatize Medicare and Social Security, but do so over time to preserve older people's benefits.
Since Tuesday, Angle has spent most of her time doing interviews on conservative talk show radio stations while her campaign revamps her website and ramps up for a general election campaign.
"We've been overwhelmed," Angle campaign spokesman Jerry Stacy said Thursday. "Sharron's not hiding out. We're just taking some time to get things where they need to be to run a general election campaign. We're expanding our operation exponentially, and so we're pretty busy."
Stacy dismissed attacks on Angle for having dangerous ideas, and he said Angle looked forward to debating Reid, whose campaign said he would do at least one debate with her.
"They're trying to make Sharron sound extreme, but we want to debate the issues like housing and jobs with Harry Reid," Stacy said. "That's what voters want to hear about."
The high-profile help from Clinton came on the same day Reid began the first two TV ads of his general election campaign, touting his ability to create jobs in Nevada and promote clean energy.
The visit also coincided with the first post-primary poll, which showed Angle enjoying a bounce after the Tea Party favorite's stunning GOP primary victory.
The Rasmussen telephone survey of 500 Nevada voters showed Angle beating Reid 50 percent to 39 percent if the general election were now. The poll taken Wednesday used automatic dialing, which some analysts find less reliable. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
A month ago, Angle led Reid 48 percent to 40 percent in a Rasmussen survey. A Mason-Dixon poll taken for the Las Vegas Review-Journal a week before Tuesday's primary showed Angle ahead of Reid 44 percent to 41 percent, within the 4 percentage point error margin.
Reid's campaign manager Brandon Hall said positive TV ads would be a part of the senator's message through the Nov. 2 election and would help improve Reid's poor poll numbers. He also predicted Angle's popularity would tumble once Nevadans learn more about what he called her "dangerous" views, including wanting to do away with the Department of Energy.
"Most Nevadans don't know Sharron Angle's extreme record yet, and so as Nevadans begin to meet and really understand what she is talking about in the campaign, that will change," Hall said.
Hall pointed to Republican Sue Lowden's downfall, from GOP front-runner to finishing far behind Angle in the final GOP voting, as an example of how fortunes can quickly change.
"A month and a half ago, I could have pointed to a poll that would have showed a candidate leading the Republican primary by 30 points, and that candidate is no longer on the ballot," Hall said.
When it was noted that nearly all polls show Reid's support stuck around 40 percent, Hall said the campaign is working to turn that around by focusing on what the powerful senator has done.
"You run two television ads where you highlight his positive record and what he is doing to create jobs right here in Nevada," Hall said when asked how to improve Reid's popularity.
Asked whether Reid's ads would turn negative as November nears, Hall said Reid might get more direct in comparing himself to Angle at some point, but "there is plenty of time between now and Election Day."
One of Reid's new ads highlights a solar energy project that got federal tax credits. In the 30-second spot, a formerly unemployed worker who got one of 300 jobs to help build a field of solar panels in Eldorado Valley outside Boulder City credits Reid.
"A few months ago I didn't have a job," Tim Gardner says as the ad shows him driving his truck to work at dawn. "And now all that's changed. It was like a ton of bricks lifted off my shoulders.
"What you see here are hundreds of jobs," the man adds. "These solar jobs wouldn't be here without Harry Reid. It's that simple."
The spot ends with footage of Reid touring the project earlier this spring when he came home to Nevada for a rural tour that launched the Democratic incumbent's bid for a fifth term.
A second Reid ad focuses on Ormat Technologies, which benefited from $144 million Reid secured for Nevada geothermal projects as part of the Economic Recovery Act. Even before the ads began airing, the Republican Party slammed Reid on the jobs issue, saying he backed the initial $787 billion federal stimulus plan that hasn't fixed the jobless problem as promised.
"At a time when Nevada's unemployment is at a record 13.7 percent and the stimulus has not only failed to create the jobs Harry Reid promised, but it helped drive the federal debt over $13 trillion, the arrogance of this ad is remarkable," said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has made Reid its No. 1 target for defeat this year.
"Republicans agree with Harry Reid on one thing though, and that's his new campaign slogan -- 'No One Can Do More' -- because no one in Washington has done more to grow the size of the federal government, done more to skyrocket our national debt or done more to increase the tax burden on Nevada families than Harry Reid."
Reid supporters believe he'll have an easier time winning re-election against Angle. The Democratic Party is portraying Angle as too far right to win support from Nevada's large number of independent voters, about one-fifth of the electorate.
Angle and her campaign have dismissed such doubts.
In her celebration speech Tuesday night in Las Vegas, Angle said she and other conservative Republicans are riding a wave of voter anger at Washington's overspending and over-regulation. She vowed to "fire Harry Reid" in the fall so the GOP could "take back the country."
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.