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Trump plans pre-caucus visit to Las Vegas next week

Updated February 13, 2020 - 7:41 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will visit Las Vegas next week, just two days before Nevada Democrats hold their presidential caucuses.

The president will speak at a graduation ceremony Thursday for Hope for Prisoners, a Las Vegas program that helps ex-inmates re-enter society.

The graduation will take place at the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Las Vegas.

According to Jon Ponder, a former bank robber who started the organization, as many as 100 Metro officers and a like number of program graduates will watch as Attorney General Bill Barr administers an oath to 27 graduates.

“We are so very honored to have the president of the United States here in our local community, recognizing the men and women who are fighting for their second chance,” Ponder told the Review-Journal.

A White House official hailed the program, “which aims to reduce recidivism, improve public safety, and support the administration’s efforts of providing previously incarcerated Americans with second chances.”

The Trump White House has made reintegration of former inmates into society a signature issue. In December 2018, Trump signed the First Step Act, a groundbreaking criminal justice reform. Trump recognized Ponder for his efforts in a May 2018 ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Deputy Assistant to the President Ja’Ron Smith, who has met with Ponder at the White House, said Trump will discuss “his commitment to second-chance hiring” and criminal justice reform with the goal of leaving graduates with “a sense of hope.”

Trump’s touchdown in Nevada will be part of a sweep through the West that includes a campaign rally in Phoenix on Wednesday and Colorado Springs the following day.

While the Hope for Prisoners event is not a rally, the Nevada visit follows a pattern. Trump held Keep America Great rallies in Des Moines before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses and in Manchester ahead of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday.

The rallies generate excitement among the Trump base, lay a marker for crowd size in which Trump outperforms Democratic hopefuls and give Trump an opportunity to insert himself into the thinning Democratic primary.

On Tuesday, during a bill signing in the Oval Office, Trump slammed former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg as “a lightweight”; said he would rather run against Bloomberg than Sen. Bernie Sanders because Sanders has “real followers”; and offered that former Vice President Joe Biden just might pull out a victory in South Carolina.

Some political insiders see this is the wrong move.

“This primary is about to get really nasty,” Republican strategist Alex Conant told the Review-Journal. “Trump has an opportunity to rise above.”

Conant offered that he saw no “strategic value” in Trump calling Bloomberg “mini-Mike.”

There is no guarantee that Bloomberg will be the Democrats’ nominee, “no possibility he’ll hurt Bloomberg with Democratic voters,” and “Trump’s attacks on Bloomberg have elevated him with primary voters,” Conant said.

On the crowd competition, before the New Hampshire primary, Trump fans packed Manchester’s SNHU Arena, with a capacity of nearly 12,000. (Trump told reporters Tuesday that 40,000 to 50,000 attended the event.)

Sanders was the only Democrat to come close to that number with a rally — one of four in New Hampshire — that drew more than 7,500 individuals.

The day after Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary, Trump declared himself the winner too.

Trump tweeted and retweeted posts by campaign manager Brad Parscale that hailed him as the most successful incumbent president in terms of wooing raw primary votes at the New Hampshire ballot box.

Trump won all 22 GOP delegates with 85.5 percent of the primary vote. Rival Bill Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, garnered 9.1 percent of the GOP primary vote.

As he met with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump responded to media questions about the election. Trump again mentioned his strong performance in the Republican New Hampshire primary, then noted, “We’re off to some areas I like very much,” specifically Nevada and South Carolina.

Vice President Mike Pence also is scheduled to visit Nevada ahead of the caucuses, speaking at an Evangelicals for Trump rally in Las Vegas on Feb. 21 and appearing at a Keep America Great rally in Reno later that day.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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