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Obama touts Harry Reid’s efforts, says stimulus ‘right thing to do’

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Las Vegas Sun

President Barack Obama listens Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) during a town hall meeting at Green Valley High School in Henderson Friday, February 19, 2010.

Updated Friday, Feb. 19, 2010 | 5:46 p.m.

Obama in Las Vegas

Obama Town Hall

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, left, and President Barack Obama wave as they conclude a town hall meeting Friday, Feb. 19, at Green Valley High School in Henderson. Launch slideshow »

Obama at Aria

President Barack Obama leaves the stage after addressing the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and LVCVA at the Aria Resort and Casino on Friday. Launch slideshow »

Residents Protest Obama

Protesters hold up signs and chant on a sidewalk at Green Valley High School Friday during the president's town hall meeting. Launch slideshow »

Obama Departs Las Vegas

Secret Service await President Barack Obama with Air Force One at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas Friday, February 19, 2010. Launch slideshow »

President Obama Arrives in Las Vegas

President Barack Obama exits Air Force One after arriving at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Thursday. Launch slideshow »

President Barack Obama was in full campaign mode today in Las Vegas, meeting with business leaders at one stop and engaging in a town-hall question-and-answer session at another that touched on health care reform, the economic recovery -- and even the importance of flossing daily.

Obama was fighting not just for his own administration's policies as he starts a difficult second year, but also for the political fortunes of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who got multiple shout-outs from the commander-in-chief for the work he has done to right the economy and pass health care reform.

As the president's poll numbers slip, Obama said he knows the bank bailout and stimulus were not popular measures. But he said he and Reid made the hard choices to support them because "it was the right thing to do." Reid's poll numbers are dismal and he faces the fight of his political life this November.

"Almost 2 million more Americans are working right now because of what Harry Reid did," Obama said during the first stop at Green Valley High School before a packed crowd, most of whom waited in line Thursday for tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"Ninety-five percent of you got a tax cut because of Harry Reid" and the recovery act, Obama said.

The events followed a Thursday evening fundraiser at the private home of Palms casino head George Maloof that aimed to raise $1 million for the Democratic National Committee. Donors paid up to $30,400, the maximum allowed for the evening event. Obama stayed overnight at the Bellagio.

Today, Obama delivered what became the closest to a mea culpa for what some considered his disparaging remarks last month toward the city.

As the president opened his talk with business leaders at CityCenter, the largest privately funded development in U.S. history, Obama addressed his Vegas comments head on.

In a Feb. 2 speech in New Hamphire, Obama said, "You don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you're trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices. It's time your government did the same." The comment inflamed Las Vegas leaders, most notably Mayor Oscar Goodman, who declined invitations to greet the president and attend today's events.

On Friday, Obama told about 650 business leaders from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, "Let me set the record straight: I love Vegas."

The statement drew a standing ovation.

He added: "I enjoy myself every time I've had an opportunity to visit."

Obama joked that he had gotten a royal flush in a poker game last night and "cut the budget deficit in half."

He said his statement remains true -- "The only place people should spend their college savings is college" -- but insisted it wasn't meant as a dig at Las Vegas.

In both talks, Obama was in pure campaign mode, talking his policies outside the beltway and directly to the people and potential voters he needs to reach to build populist support heading into the November election.

After delivering his prepared remarks at Green Valley High School, Obama took off his coat -- to great applause. He rolled up his sleeves and fielded questions from the audience, choosing a handful of speakers in alternating fashion school-style, alternating boys and girls, as he put it.

Questions revolved heavily around health care reform. But Obama got a made-for-the-moment assist when he asked a man from Arkansas what he was doing in Las Vegas.

"Everybody comes to Vegas," the man said, drawing huge cheers from the crowd of the tourism-dependent city that is still hard hit by the Great Recession.

Obama smiled broadly. It was a reprieve for the president who was heavily criticized by Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and other elected officials for having used the city twice as a punchline in discussions of fiscal discipline. Most recently, the president said families shouldn't spend money on Vegas when they should be saving for college.

"That's what I'm talking about," Obama said to more applause.

The man also asked about dental care as part of health care reform, prompting Obama to admonish the crowd and consider proper dental hygiene.

"Everybody floss," the president said.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, released a statement saying the president will not help Reid's re-election this fall.

“Senator Harry Reid is deeply disconnected from Nevada, which explains why his constituents are so displeased with him," Wilcox said.

"From muscling through his failed $862 billion stimulus bill, to crafting backroom health care deals, to shelving a bipartisan jobs bill¬ that would have extended the sales tax deduction to over 132,000 Nevadans ¬ Harry Reid has been nothing but a fierce partisan in Washington and a quick visit from President Obama won’t save him this November.”

The president’s plane lifted off from McCarran International Airport at about 1 p.m. Friday en route to Andrews Air Force base and the White House..

Sun reporter Kyle Hansen contributed to this report.

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