Joking that he was "preaching to the saved," former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday night urged a largely Democratic crowd to help return U.S. Sen. Harry Reid to Washington.
At a rally inside Valley High School's gym, Clinton said that "in a normal time" Reid would be winning his re-election bid by 25 points and his GOP challenger Sharron Angle wouldn't be a electoral threat to the incumbent.
But these are not normal times, Clinton acknowledged, addressing up to 1,600 people as Reid sat on a stage at his side after telling his backers the economy is his No. 1 concern, too.
"You and I know the only reason this is a tough race is because people are having a tough time," Clinton said. "When people are mad, it's time to think."
Clinton blamed Reid's unpopularity and the close race on negative ads that blame the four-term senator for Nevada's record high unemployment rate, flood of home foreclosures and other economic troubles. And he especially criticized the TV commercials paid for by GOP-leaning groups that don't disclose the source of their donations.
"If you knew who's giving the money, you would know that the ads weren't true," Clinton said, without citing any specific political action committee.
Clinton also criticized Angle on several fronts. He slammed her for saying it's not her job as a U.S. senator to create jobs, whereas he said Reid makes that his top priority. Angle has instead said private enterprise is responsible for job creation and government must cut taxes and regulations to help them.
The former president, who has been crossing the country to campaign for endangered Democrats such as Reid, also slammed Angle for opposing mandated insurance coverage.
"This is a woman who doesn't want women to have mammograms, who thinks autism is some sort of a flaky made-up deal," Clinton said.
Actually, Angle voted for mandating insurance coverage for mammograms when she was a Reno assemblywoman. But in general she opposes mandates because she says they increase the cost of insurance for everybody.
The crowd, which got invitations through the Democratic Party and from other Reid-friendly groups, stood and applauded when the senator and later Clinton took the stage.
Holding Reid signs, people applauded warmly several times when Clinton or Reid made a point -- and booed whenever Angle's name was mentioned. But people began to politely stream out of the gym as Clinton went on about the economy and the hour-long event was wrapping up just after 10 p.m.
"I assume you all are going to vote," Clinton said, knowing Democratic turnout must be high for Reid to win. "You've got to vote for Harry Reid."
Clinton's visit was the third time he has traveled to Las Vegas to fire up Democrats, who are expected to lose Senate seats and possibly control of the House come November.
Clinton most recently campaigned for Reid's son Rory, who is running far behind Republican Brian Sandoval in the gubernatorial race. The Reids have not campaigned together, both fearing they'll hurt one another's chances of election.
Clinton's visit comes more than a week before President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Las Vegas on a rescue mission to save Reid's re-election chances and to raise money for the Democrats.
The president's Oct. 22 Las Vegas stop will be part of a five-state swing through the West, including stops in California, Washington and Oregon.
In Las Vegas, Obama plans to attend a rally sponsored by the Democratic National Committee and a fundraiser for Reid in coordination with the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
The Obama rally will be a public event, aimed at boosting voter turnout and shoring up support for Reid and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., locked in tight race with GOP challenger Joe Heck.
No details have been released by the Democrats about the location or time of the rally.
A White House official said chances are that Obama will stay overnight in Las Vegas before hitting the road again the day after the Friday rally.
Obama was last in Las Vegas in July .
The Republicans dismissed Clinton's visit as a useless attempt to save Reid from defeat.
"Other than a nice photo-op, it won't change the fact that Senator Reid's failed policies have made Nevada the leader in unemployment and the foreclosure capital of the country," said Jahan Wilcox, spokesman for the Nevada Republican Party. "With the election a mere three weeks away, voters are anxiously awaiting their opportunity to replace Harry Reid with Sharron Angle."
Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban contributed to this story. Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.