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Obama plays up Reid

President Barack Obama told a Las Vegas audience Tuesday night that if they like what he’s been doing in office, they have Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., partly to thank.

At a sold-out fundraiser that was also a concert extravaganza, Obama was back in campaign mode as he had been in Nevada so many times before the election.

The president told the crowd of about 4,000 at the Caesars Palace Colosseum that Reid will need the grass-roots energy Obama rode to victory for his re-election next year.

Obama also touted his newly announced Supreme Court nominee, New York federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor, calling her a "brilliant individual" with both sterling credentials and an admirable personal journey.

The mention of Sotomayor drew a standing cheer.

"I know that Harry Reid and others in the Senate will make sure that she is confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice," Obama said. "I know that because Harry has just as improbable a story, and so do I. That’s what politics should be about: remembering that for a whole lot of folks, life isn’t easy."

The president is scheduled to hold an event touting the effects of the federal stimulus package this morning at Nellis Air Force Base, where he also will tour a solar energy installation.

The event is not open to the public. Air Force One is scheduled to leave Nellis around 12:30 p.m.

At Tuesday’s fundraiser, Obama didn’t mention the local controversy over his remarks earlier this year condemning lavish Las Vegas junkets by corporations getting federal bailout money, but he did praise the resort where he was to spend the night.

When he stayed at Caesars frequently during the campaign, "I thought I had a pretty nice room," he said. "But now that I’m president, they upgraded me. It’s a really nice room now."

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who sharply criticized Obama’s February remarks about Las Vegas, was among the officials greeting the president at McCarran International Airport after 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Organizers said the star-studded fundraiser, which featured a lineup of entertainers including Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow, Rita Rudner and Clint Holmes, was expected to raise nearly $2 million for Reid and the Nevada Democratic Party.

It was Obama’s first fundraiser for an individual candidate as president, with tickets ranging from $50 seats available through Ticketmaster to a VIP reception for those who raised $29,600.

The event was a vivid illustration of Reid’s Washington clout and the resources he will bring to bear on what could be a tough campaign next year, though he does not yet have an opponent.

Reid’s detractors painted the event as a desperate move.

"Frankly, it speaks to the Democrat Leader’s deep unpopularity at home that he is already calling in reinforcements from Washington to help boost his sagging approval numbers in Nevada," Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. "Once again tonight, Harry Reid is simply reminding Nevadans that he’s more in touch with the Democrats in Washington than with the voters in his state."

Tuesday was Obama’s first visit to Nevada since campaigning hard here and carrying the state by a 12-point margin. He urged the audience to repeat that Democratic surge for Reid next year.

"I know you’re going to make those phone calls, knock on those doors, get people out to the polls again next November, so we can make sure Harry Reid continues his devoted service to this great state," Obama said. "I can’t bring the change I promised all by myself. … I need partners in Congress, leaders who are determined to make a difference for the folks they represent."

Reid, he said, is someone who "gives voice to forgotten people" because he remembers his small-town roots.

"It is not easy," Obama said of the majority leader’s job. "But Harry’s somebody who has consistently fought on those issues that matter not just to Democrats but to middle-class families all across America."

Obama’s 18-minute speech touted the accomplishments of his still-young administration, including the stimulus package, lifting the ban on federally funded stem-cell research, expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and passing legislation to prevent pay discrimination.

Up next, he said, are climate change legislation and health care reform.

"If you stand with me, if you stand with Harry Reid, I know we will look back at this moment and say that’s when the American people came together to write the next great chapter of the American story," Obama said.

Preceding Obama on the vast stage, at a podium in front of a teal velvet curtain, Reid also touted the two men’s partnership, saying that together, "I think we’re doing a pretty good job."

Reid said that he and the president worked their way to the top from similarly humble backgrounds and that he believes Obama will go down in history as one of America’s greatest presidents.

"More than any other lesson we would learn in school, President Obama and I learned that each of us can make a difference in America," Reid said. "I am thankful every day that the people of Nevada have chosen me to represent them in the capital, I’m thankful that my colleagues in the Senate have chosen me to lead them, and that I am in a position to help the people in my state, particularly in these most troubled economic times."

Reid touted his and Obama’s work together to create jobs, cut taxes for the middle class, expand renewable energy and end the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, another big applause line.

Drawing a comparison between Obama’s "improbable" path to the presidency and his own roots in Searchlight, Reid noted that his childhood home didn’t have hot water or an indoor toilet.

But Reid also noted some differences between himself and Obama:

• Obama, he said, is a better basketball player.

• Reid has never knowingly been photographed in a swimsuit, "and I hope I never am."

• Obama "is the better speaker."

The entertainers, most of them well-known liberal activists, also praised their political hosts.

Crow said Obama "makes me happy every day." The singer-songwriter and breast cancer survivor has visited Reid’s office to discuss many causes, including green energy, artists’ rights and cancer research.

"His door is always open, and I’m always knocking," she said.

Rudner said, "I’ve been in show business a long time, and I’ve been an entertainer a long time, but I never thought I’d have the Senate majority leader and the president of the United States open for me."

She cracked, "Isn’t it refreshing to have a president who is intentionally funny?"

Midler said the Strip has plenty of magic acts, but Reid was the one who "turned a red state blue."

Most of those in attendance said the star power that drew them to the event was the politicians, not the entertainers.

Carol Quigley, a 67-year-old Las Vegas retiree, said she’s seen Midler and Holmes perform before, "but I can pay to see them anytime." If it meant seeing the president, she said, "Mickey Mouse could be here, and I’d still pay to see it."

Her friend Susan Black added, "I’m here to support Harry Reid because I can’t believe the people in this state would be dumb enough not to support the majority leader from their home state."

Many traced their Obama fandom back to last year’s election, when Obama made 20 trips to Nevada, first battling Hillary Clinton in the state’s early Democratic caucuses and then seeking the swing state’s electoral votes against Republican John McCain.

"We’ve been Barack supporters all along," said 54-year-old Pam Smith of Henderson. "Every time he speaks, I feel happy inside — somebody with a plan, an intelligent, sensitive person. That’s who we need as president, especially at this time."

Smith said she also supports Reid: "Harry sometimes gets foot-in-mouth disease, but he tells it like it is."

Review-Journal writer Henry Brean and contributor Marian Green added to this report.

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0287.

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