Barack Obama does a pretty good Harry Reid impression.
The 6-foot-1 president leans over, lowers his voice to a whispery rasp.
"Well, I'm Harry Reid," Obama said Friday, telling a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, audience about the first time the 70-year-old senator told him he used to be a boxer.
"Barack, I wasn't the fastest. I wasn't the hardest hitting. But I knew how to take a punch."
Obama smiles and shakes his head, just like he did when he told the same story during a spirited campaign rally for Reid at CityCenter's Aria hotel-casino the night before.
Unspoken is the message the president's anecdote conveys: Reid might not look like much of a fighter, or much of a campaigner, but his toughness has helped him survive until now. And the way Obama delivers it, by imitating Reid, sends another signal: If you would vote for me, vote for him.
"He's a fighter and you should never bet against him," Obama said of Reid.
The message is important because the president is not on the November ballot. And to win, the unpopular Reid needs all the help he can get from core Democratic supporters who turned out in force in Nevada and nationwide to ensure Obama won the White House in 2008, say political analysts.
"This is Obama's job -- he has to campaign" for Reid and others in tight races, said Ken Fernandez, a political science professor at UNLV. "Reid needs him to bring attention to what he has done in Nevada. But it's more effective in a presidential election year than it is during a mid-term election."
Obama needs Reid, as well, to carry the Democrat s' agenda.
On Friday, Obama announced he would ask Congress to extend a tax credit for clean energy projects at a federal cost of $5 billion. He said that could trigger creation of up to 40,000 jobs around the country, including some in Nevada where the dismal economy is the top campaign issue.
So far, the government has extended $2.3 billion in such help to companies that must provide 70 percent of private funding for the projects to receive a tax credit for the remaining 30 percent.
Amonix, a California-based company, got $5.9 million to build a solar manufacturing facility in Las Vegas, which is expected to create 278 jobs -- a development Reid touted in the spring.
While Reid as the Senate majority leader has tied his re-election hopes to Obama, the Republicans and his GOP opponent Sharron Angle are doing the exact same thing -- but to argue against sending the four-term senator back to Washington to continue what they see as failed Democratic policies.
"As two of the most powerful politicians in Washington, this Democratic duo has schemed and forced their liberal agenda onto the people of Nevada, leading to 14 percent unemployment in the state, the highest in the nation," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said.
Steele's statement came as the RNC released a new TV ad running in Las Vegas called "Two of a Kind," that blames Reid and Obama for record high jobless rates as well as a $1.5 trillion budget deficit and a record $13 trillion national debt. Angle's first general election TV ad also hits Reid on the economy.
Angle's campaign on Friday questioned why Obama was visiting Las Vegas for the overnight trip that was part official and part political at a time that the BP oil spill disaster continues in the Gulf and as the U.S. government sues the state of Arizona for a law that cracks down on illegal immigrants.
"Why was the president in Nevada at all?" Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy asked in a statement. "Shouldn't he be more concerned about suing Arizona, a state that's actually trying to do something about immigration, unlike his administration? Or the cleanup of the oil spill in the Gulf that happened because his Mineral Management Agency got too cozy with BP?
"Instead he's flying out from Washington on the taxpayer dime trying to bail out 'Rubber-Stamp Harry Reid' and talking down to Nevadans about their economy getting better and what a great job Reid is doing. It's insulting to the people of Nevada. They know better."
The Angle campaign, which is now starting to counter some of Reid's daily attacks, also released what it called the "Reid/Obama record" that criticizes the results of the $800 billion-plus stimulus act.
The list noted that since the stimulus passed last year, the nation's unemployment rate has risen from 8.2 percent to 9.5 percent and 2.3 million Americans have lost jobs, including more than 64,000 in Nevada and 39,000 in Las Vegas as the state suffers a record high 14 percent unemployment rate.
The White House, however, said in a document released during Obama's visit that an estimated 27,000 jobs were "created or saved" by the Recovery Act, or stimulus, through March 2010. And more than $3 billion in funding has been made available to Nevada with $2.2 billion spent so far.
Reid, in a short speech at UNLV before he introduced Obama, defended the Democrats' efforts to rebuild an economy that he and the president said crashed thanks to the Bush administration. But he also said he knew that people were frustrated the recovery is taking so long.
"It's an underestimation to say Nevada is being tested like never before," Reid said, adding that he is confident the state's economy will come back. "We've got a lot of fight left in us."
He and Nevada will need that battle born mentality.
Although Reid ran in the Democratic primary with little opposition, he won only 75 percent of the vote on June 8 with "none" of these candidates finishing second at nearly 11 percent of the vote. And college-age voters who had supported Obama in record numbers two years ago didn't turn out, with only 2.25 percent of registered 18- to-25-year-old voters showing up at the ballot box.
Obama's visit -- his third for Reid in the past year -- was largely designed to both fire up the Democratic base and to reach out to those disappointed supporters who think there hasn't been enough "hope and change" as the former Illinois senator had promised when he ran for president.
Democrats who had voted for Obama and longtime Reid loyalists, including union members, were invited to the Thursday evening rally at the Aria, filling a ballroom with 3,000 people.
Friday's UNLV event also was by invitation only, with representatives of clean energy companies, small business owners, consumer groups, environmental advocates and community leaders filling most of the 600 seats in the student union room, although the university also invited some guests.
Even among that friendly crowd, some people expressed doubts about the direction the Democratic leaders were taking the country, mostly because of economic angst.
Nakia Jackson-Hale, 36, voted for Obama but expressed skepticism after listening to his speech at UNLV, where she works.
"I think that it's very encouraging," she said. "However, when he says that the economy is getting better, it's kind of hard to believe when my husband was laid off three weeks ago."
UNLV graduate Chelsea Milko, 25, also said she's a strong Obama backer and voted for him. But she's not so sure about the Senate majority leader, saying, "I've always been on the fence about Reid."
"I just think he's out of touch with Nevada," Milko said, voicing a common worry that Reid has been trying to dispel. "I feel he's a little too distant and caught up in that game in Washington."
In the end, however, Milko said she would likely vote for Reid come Nov. 2 because she feels he's a "valuable player" of the Democratic team for Obama -- another idea Reid is trying to re-enforce.
What about Angle, the Tea Party favorite who is running on a platform of reducing the size of the federal government and its spending in favor of returning more power and money to the states?
"I could never vote for Sharron Angle," Milko said. "I'm afraid she would get rid of the Peace Corps. She wants to get rid of some federal agencies and you just don't know what might be next."
Milko said she has joined the Peace Corps and is soon heading to Uganda.
Review-Journal reporter Carri Geer Thevenot contributed to this story. Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.