On a personal mission to save Sen. Harry Reid's political career, President Barack Obama on Thursday fired up a boisterous rally of 3,000 supporters with a plea to return the Senate majority leader to Washington, D.C., to help the Democrats finish the job of turning around the economy.
"I need you to work for Harry Reid," Obama told a lively crowd inside Aria at CityCenter, urging them not to just vote for Reid but to make phone calls, knock on doors and tell others to help, too.
"And if you do, then our future is indeed bright, and Nevada's future is bright. And Las Vegas' future is bright," the president said at the end of a fiery 40-minute speech at the new Strip development.
Obama's pitch for patience comes as Nevada suffers a record 14 percent unemployment rate, the worst in the nation, along with record-high home foreclosure and bankruptcy rates, which have helped make Reid unpopular at home. Less than half of Nevadans are happy with Reid, polls show.
Reid's Republican opponent Sharron Angle hammers on that theme in her first TV ad of the general election campaign, blaming Reid for the state's hard economic times.
The 30-second ad, which begins airing today , uses somber music, stark images of people in unemployment lines and "closed" signs in front of stores to demonstrate the state's dismal economy.
The spot notes that during Reid's time as the Democratic leader of the Senate, Nevada's unemployment rate has skyrocketed from 4.4 percent to 14 percent with 135,000 jobs lost.
"Help is on the way," the ads says with Angle's websites appearing at the end.
Reid also has a fresh ad, slamming Angle for saying that it's not a U.S. senator's job to create jobs. That's in contrast to Reid, who called bankers to ensure CityCenter was completed last year, saving 22,000 jobs, he says, including 8,000 permanent positions at CityCenter.
Before Obama spoke, a CityCenter employee, Penny Webster, took the stage and said to the audience, "If Sharron Angle had her way, I would not have the job I have today."
The warm-up show included entertainment from Las Vegas-based rockers The Killers and musician and songwriter Sarah McLachlan. She played several songs, including "Loving You Is Easy."
But when it comes to Reid, Obama joked that loving the 70-year-old leader isn't so easy. The president made light of Reid's quiet personality and lack of charisma.
"Harry is always in a tough race," Obama said as Reid grinned behind him on the stage. "He's just not a flashy guy. You'd think that since we're in Vegas, somebody could give him some tips."
Obama's overnight stay is the president's third trip to Las Vegas in the past year to rally voters and raise money for Reid and Democrats and he's expected to return. A private dinner at Aria for donors raised $800,000, according to the Reid campaign. Obama's two previous trips raised $1 million each.
This morning , Obama is scheduled to give a speech on the economy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, addressing another invitation-only crowd of what's expected to be several hundred people.
Although the audience inside CityCenter's centerpiece Aria lavished Obama with frequent applause and shouts of "We love you Obama!" not everyone embraced Obama and Reid's views.
Across the street from the resort, a handful of protesters displayed picket signs denouncing the duo in bold, red letters.
"Impeach Obama, Dump Reid" read one sign brandished by Dave Alexander, whose T-shirt described him as a proud American and a Tea Party patriot.
"We're moving at light speed toward socialism," Alexander said. "You can only spend other people's money so much before you run out."
Armin Ruud, 66, offered a double message. One side of his sign said that "a bloated government hurts the people." The other called for upholding the Constitution.
"My beef is with the whole Congress," Ruud said, "the way they spend and the way they have cast off responsibility."
Angle, a Tea Party favorite who shocked establishment Republicans by winning the GOP primary, shares some of the protesters' views that government is too big and federal spending is too high.
For that, Obama openly mocked Angle, without using her name.
"On a lot of these issues, she favors an approach that's even more extreme than the Republicans we got in Washington," Obama said, prompting laughs. "That's saying something. That is saying something. I mean, she wants to phase out and privatize Social Security and Medicare."
This drew a round of "boos" from audience members, many of whom held "Harry Reid for Senate" signs.
Obama also made fun of Angle for suggesting that the oil industry should be deregulated, despite the disastrous BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And he criticized her for calling $20 billion that BP has put aside to compensate victims of the spill a "slush fund." Earlier Thursday, Angle retracted her comments and said that the company should be held accountable, as should the Obama administration.
"I'm sure she meant slush fund in the nicest possible way," Obama said.
Fired up, the Democratic crowded shouted that Angle was a "lunatic" and an "idiot."
Still, Obama spent most of his speech defending Reid and Democratic policies, which have come under fire at a time voters are angry and fed up with the party in power, according to polls.
The president said he needs Reid by his side back in Washington next year to battle the Republicans he blames for driving the economy into a ditch just as he took office in 2009. He said 750,000 Americans lost their jobs as the economy began to tank. Obama defended the bailouts that began in the Bush administration and the near $800 billion stimulus package he approved, which he said kept the nation from falling into a deeper recession.
Still, he acknowledged times remain tough in Nevada.
"I'm not going to be satisfied, and Harry Reid's not going to be satisfied until everyone who wants a job in Nevada has a job," Obama said to explosive applause. "We want Nevada to be on the move. We want the Las Vegas dream to be a reality. We've got a lot of work to do."
Obama praised Reid for bringing thousands of clean-energy jobs to Nevada and for backing tax cuts that helped about 1 million Nevadans, things he said will help bring back the good times.
"Despite the storm clouds we've been going through, you see out on the horizon a future that is bright," Obama said. "You see a future where we're no longer relying just on dirty energy and expensive energy but clean energy. And it's creating jobs all across Nevada."
Obama said voters will have a stark choice come November.
"This is a choice between the policies that led us into the mess, or the policies that are leading us out of the mess," he said. "This is the choice between falling backwards and moving forward. Harry Reid wants to move forward. I think most people in Nevada want to move forward."
Earlier Thursday in Kansas City, Obama implored heartland voters Thursday to believe his economic policies averted impending disaster.
"What is absolutely clear is we're moving in the right direction," Obama said at an electric truck factory.
Obama jabbed Republicans though none by name.
"There are some people who make the political calculation that it is better to say no to everything than lend a hand," he said.
After his remarks at Smith Electric Vehicles, Obama headed out to raise money for Democratic Senate hopeful Robin Carnahan. Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, represents a chance for a Democratic pickup of the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Kit Bond.
Obama aimed to energize supporters with a partisan message that he's been sharpening and honing of late: turning the man who pledged during his campaign to bridge partisan divides into a president who has begun playing into them.
For instance, the president planned to repeat his attacks on Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who had to apologize for apologizing to BP, and House Minority Leader John Boehner, who contends his metaphor likening the financial crisis to an "ant" is being twisted by Democrats.
Obama also has been trying to get voters to buy a message he himself acknowledges is a tough sell: that things would be worse if last year's $862 billion stimulus bill hadn't passed.
In his plea at Aria for Nevada voters to re-elect Reid, Obama said that the senator from the small town of Searchlight hasn't forgotten his hardscrabble roots and knows what it's like to be poor. Before Obama spoke, the audience saw a short film about Reid, who talked about growing up in Searchlight and making his way to the Senate.
"If I can make it in America anybody can," Reid says in the film, which also is on his campaign website.
Defending Reid, Obama said the four-term senator has made tough decisions, including pushing through the health care law despite its unpopularity with Nevadans and Americans.
"He doesn't always do what's easy. He doesn't always do what's popular. But he does what's right," Obama said. "As Senate majority leader, he has always done what's right."
Obama ended his speech by urging the audience to help energize their friends and neighbors.
"This election is going to be close," Obama said, as polls show Reid and Angle within a few percentage points of one another in a general election race.
The president reminded the crowd that Reid was a boxer as a young man and has been a fighter for the Democratic Party in Congress, where partisan politics is a rough-and-tumble game.
"Anybody who knows Harry knows he is made of strong stuff. This is one tough guy," Obama said. "He does not give up. He does not give in.
"He keeps on fighting, and he outlasts them."
Review-Journal writer Scott Wyland and The Associated presscontributed to this report. Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.