A quick stop in Las Vegas proved former President Bill Clinton can raise money and rally the Democratic troops.
Whether Clinton can transfer any of the political mojo that gave him the nickname "Comeback Kid" to underdog gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid remains to be seen.
During a visit to the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on Wednesday, Clinton rallied Reid’s boisterous supporters, raised about $225,000 in campaign contributions and fired some pithy zingers at Reid’s Republican opponent, Brian Sandoval.
Polls show Reid trails Sandoval by double digits with less than 50 days before the election, meaning the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs all the star power and cash he can get for the homestretch.
Reid also needs to burnish his argument that he’s the man with real plans for Nevada and that Sandoval is an empty suit.
Clinton clearly knew the score.
"He is a handsome dude. He looks great," Clinton said of Sandoval. "But we don’t have a clue what he is going to do because he has never done it before, and he doesn’t have a plan to do it now."
As he sought to establish himself as the candidate of substance, Reid also signaled he would be open to legislative proposals to use tax or fee increases to balance a state budget that from 2011-13 could have revenue $3 billion short of projected expenses.
Between handshakes and photos after the speeches, Reid deviated from the staunch anti-tax rhetoric that has defined both campaigns’ economic messages.
Although his own biennial budget proposal doesn’t call for tax or fee increases, Reid hedged when asked how he would react to other proposals that might include increases.
When asked whether it would be accurate to report he might sign a budget with tax and fee increases, Reid responded, "It would."
Later, Reid criticized Sandoval not only for failing to deliver a budget proposal thus far in the campaign but also for being closed-minded about possible solutions for the budget shortfall.
"He is trying to make people believe that if he is governor for eight years, he would never increase any tax or any fee," Reid said. "There is no governor in the history of the state that did that."
Sandoval responded to Reid’s remarks through spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner.
"Rory Reid has been all over the map on taxes for the past year," Kinner said in an e-mail. "He was for them before he was against them and now he’s for them if someone else proposes them? Brian Sandoval opposes raising taxes and will veto a tax increase."
The tax shift puts Reid alongside three former governors, as well as Democratic and Republican legislative leaders who have suggested Nevada might not be able to balance its budget on spending cuts alone.
Whether that’s company Reid wants to keep as he’s trying to catch up to Sandoval is another question.
Republican strategist Robert Uithoven, who worked on the campaign of anti-tax Gov. Jim Gibbons, says it won’t help Reid to be defined as the candidate who is open to higher taxes.
"I don’t think it is the kind of contrast Rory Reid wants going into the final sprint toward election day," Uithoven said.
During his remarks, Clinton said that voters’ biggest concern is the economy and that Reid supporters need to explain how their candidate will help improve it and create jobs.
In a Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll taken last week, 70 percent of respondents said the economy, including jobs, was the most important issue facing the state. The state budget, including taxes, was a distant third at 7 percent.
Clinton told the audience of about 1,250 that in order for Reid to overtake Sandoval, volunteers should reach out to voters one by one to counter any backlash against Democrats.
"He can’t win if all the electorate is motivated by anger or apathy and has amnesia," Clinton said, adding he thinks Republican policies from 2000-08 are to blame for the lousy national economy.
Clinton said voters are right to be angry and urged Reid supporters to help them channel their anger away from Democrats and toward choices in support of policies he says will help the nation, and Nevada, recover.
"Everyone of us who has lived a certain amount of time can remember a decision we made in anger that was wrong," Clinton said. "About 80 percent of the time when you make a decision when you are mad … you are going to make a mistake, and you might get exactly what you don’t want in life."
He said Reid’s proposals to encourage wind and solar power development to make Nevada the first energy-independent state, along with promises to improve education and diversify the hospitality-heavy economy, are what volunteers should emphasize during voter outreach.
"If all you do is go back and tell people what a good time you had at the rally, you haven’t done anything for him. You have got to talk to people," Clinton said. "Television ads are not as effective as they normally are in an election like this because people are mad, are disheartened and apathetic."
Despite polls that have Reid anywhere from 16 to 20 or more percentage points behind Sandoval, the Democrat says he has momentum in the race.
An internal campaign poll has the deficit at just 7 points, and Reid says his campaign’s superior organization will win the day.
"We are a few weeks ahead of schedule," Reid said. "I didn’t think we would be that close until October."
The Clinton visit, he said, will provide more momentum.
"I think it will energize the base," Reid said after the speeches Wednesday. "People will be working harder this afternoon on my campaign then they were this morning."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.Former President Bill Clinton speaks at rally for Rory Reid