Saying “not all Joes are cut from the same cloth,” Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday criticized U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and promoted his Democratic opponent, Erin Bilbray, at a raucous rally in Henderson.
Biden said some 200 candidates have requested he campaign for them, but he decided to help Bilbray because she shares the same Democratic values as himself and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Those values focus on raising the middle class instead of giving tax breaks to the rich and cutting vital programs such as Medicare, he said.
“For her, it’s in her bones,” Biden said, sharing the stage with Bilbray, daughter of former U.S. Rep. Jim Bilbray, D-Nev. “It’s stamped in her DNA. It’s like Harry Reid. It’s stamped in his DNA. … You’re for everything I’ve always believed in,” he told her.
Biden noted that Heck, who’s seeking re-election to the 3rd Congressional District in Clark County, supported the budget proposal of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which would make Medicare a voucher program for future retirees now 55 and younger and cut discretionary spending by 15 percent. It also would give the rich tax breaks — more than half of $5.7 trillion proposed in all — while raising income taxes for the middle class by $2,000 a year.
“Maybe Erin’s opponent thinks it’s all one big pyramid scheme,” which is how he once described Social Security, Biden said to applause and laughter. “Honestly, he doesn’t care what hurts Nevada.”
Bilbray said she was in awe of Biden, whose appearance gave her campaign a much-needed boost after months of struggling to gain traction against Heck, who is favored by national analysts to win re-election on Nov. 4. This was the first time Biden campaigned for a House candidate this year.
Bilbray told the crowd she grew up in the community and would do better than Heck in protecting common-sense values, including equal pay for women, preserving their right to choose abortion and welcoming immigrants.
“Your struggles are my struggles,” said Bilbray. “Your heart is my heart. And your families, they’re my families.”
The rally at the Henderson Convention Center drew nearly 300 Democratic supporters, who applauded Biden’s 35-minute speech in which he mostly promoted President Barack Obama’s agenda.
Top Democrats were on hand, including Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, who is running for lieutenant governor against state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, who is backed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval. Biden joked that Reid talked so much about Flores “I thought she was his daughter.”
Biden’s visit was designed to excite loyal Democratic voters and get them to knock on doors, make phone calls, register Democrats and lure as many supporters as possible to the polls — especially women for Bilbray and Flores — in what’s expected to be a low turnout election. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 64,000 voters statewide, but generally show up at a lower rate at the ballot box, leveling the political playing field.
Before the rally, Biden spoke at the NAACP convention in Las Vegas. At the civil rights gathering, he said the nation needs to wake up and respond to laws that have passed in several states to restrict voting.
Democrats and Republicans agreed over two decades to expand the Voting Rights Act to make it easier for minorities, the disabled and the poor to vote, he said. But today, several states have new and restrictive laws that will make it difficult.
“We are in a hailstorm for new attempts by (states) to limit ballot access without full protections of the law,” he told delegates, members and guests at the conference in a 31-minute speech.
This year alone, there have been 83 initiatives introduced in 29 states to limit voting rights, he said. Seven out of 10 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008 have since passed laws to restrict the vote, and nine out of 12 states with the highest Hispanic populations have passed laws to restrict the vote.
Many of the new restrictions involve voter ID requirements and shortening early voting periods.
In addition, 13 states have introduced bills to make it harder to register to vote.
The nation needs to wake up, just like it did after the murder of three civil rights workers on June 21, 1964, Biden said.
“The nation responded and it responded in outrage,” he said.
Biden asked the NAACP to continue to spread the word about the issue. He said “it’s time to reclaim that legacy of expansion,” in the Civil Rights Act.
“Together we are going to overcome the challenges of today as well, but folks, we don’t have to be harsh, we don’t have to be partisan, we just have to be loud and clear enough so the American people know of the consequences of making it more difficult to vote,” he said toward the end of his speech.
This is the first time the century-old civil rights organization has held its annual convention in Las Vegas. The event, which ended Wednesday, began Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on the south end of the Strip.
The new restrictions come after black voters surpassed whites in turnout rates in the 2012 election for the first time in U.S. history: 66.2 percent compared to 64.7 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
In 2008, black voter turnout helped Barack Obama become the nation’s first African-American president.
In a setback, however, last year the U.S. Supreme Court on a 5-to-4 vote invalidated a section of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states with a history of discrimination to get federal clearance before changing voting laws and practices.
The Obama administration is moving to oppose new restrictions. Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. Department of Justice planned to intervene in court challenges to laws that limit voting in Wisconsin and Ohio.
On the political front, until this week, it appeared the national Democratic Party wasn’t offering Bilbray much help.
That changed Monday when U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, came to Las Vegas to promote Bilbray’s campaign, as well as other female candidates in the Silver State. On Tuesday, she helped Bilbray launch “Women for Bilbray” at a fundraiser and donated $1,000 to her campaign.
For now, Heck has a big money advantage over Bilbray. She raised under $225,000 in the quarter ending June 30 and has about $500,000 cash on hand. By comparison, Heck raised $387,000 and has $1.46 million cash for his campaign.
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