When Barack Obama made his first presidential campaign visit to Las Vegas 19 months ago, I got into it with his press person because there was no access for the local media and while Obama generally opposed Yucca Mountain, there was no answer to my follow-up question: “Then what should the country do with that nasty nuclear waste?”
It’s a two-pronged question. Democratic presidential candidates all say they oppose putting nuclear waste in Nevada; that’s not the issue. Even Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., when a presidential rather than vice-presidential candidate, admitted he didn’t know of an alternative to storing it here — less than 100 miles from Las Vegas at Yucca Mountain.
That Sunday afternoon — Feb. 18, 2007 — Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Obama had been an official candidate for only eight days and asked me to cut him a little slack. Later in the day, Burton sent this statement: “Senator Obama can’t support the Yucca Mountain project and believes we should redirect spending on alternatives, such as improving the safety and security of spent fuel at plant sites around the country. At the same time, we should continue looking for a safe, long-term disposal solution based on sound science.”
Obama wasn’t the Democratic nominee then, yet he drew an estimated 3,500 people to the Clark County Government Center. And even though he commented on little about Nevada besides the weather, the crowd loved him. I thought he could have done better. He needed to let people know he knew more about Nevada issues.
Nineteen months later, I decided it was time for a taste of another Obama event and headed for Cashman Field on Wednesday.
Some things don’t change. He didn’t provide access for the local media, except for the Hispanic news outlets. Part of his message was to urge Latinos to vote, so that made sense.
Officials estimated more than 11,000 at Cashman Field compared with the 3,500 people in the Government Center. Whatever, both times the crowds were amazingly diverse and reflective of Las Vegas, rich and poor and every combination of racial mix.
Obama did a better job of working in appropriate comments about Nevada in his stump speech. The limping economy and the depressing foreclosure rate in Nevada made that part easy since his speech stressed why he’d be better at fixing the economy than Republican Sen. John McCain.
Obama was smoother than he was 19 months ago. And edgier. “Yesterday, John McCain actually said that if he’s president he’ll take on — and I quote — ‘the old boys’ network in Washington.’ I’m not making this up. This is somebody who’s been in Congress for 26 years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign,” the senator said.
“And now he tells us that he’s the one who’s going to take on the old boys’ network,” Obama said. “The old boys’ network. In the McCain campaign that’s called a staff meeting.”
Extending the comparison, at the Government Center, it was like theater-in-the-round. Everyone saw him from all angles. At Cashman Field, organizers wanted photographers to capture the huge crowd flanking him. Obama stood at a podium with his back to the stands. People who arrived early and waited four hours to see him spent 35 minutes gazing at his backside.
What about the folks who came in person to see the man they want as president? Don’t they deserve a good look too? They fought the traffic, the parking shortage, and the humidity that’s anathema to Las Vegans. At least four people near me standing on the field because they wanted to see his face sank to the ground and needed help up. It’s easier to stay home and watch it on TV, but that’s not being part of history.
When Obama worked the line and shook hands, I saw a white man lift a small black girl up over his head so she could glimpse him. Perhaps, like Obama, the little girl was biracial and the man lifting her wanted her to see the first biracial candidate for president. She may not remember it, but if Obama wins, the man who held her may tell her about the event for years and about the change it represented.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.