Saturday, March 27, 2010 | 11:22 p.m.
Hundreds of Nevada Democrats met in Las Vegas Saturday to raise money for their state and national candidates and to celebrate the political successes of the past year.
The Jefferson Jackson Dinner, which is held most election years, is usually the state party’s biggest fundraiser. The last Jefferson Jackson Dinner was in September 2008 and raised close to $200,000. The 2007 dinner raised more than $300,000.
This year’s event drew fewer people than past years. Most of this year's attendees paid at least $150 each for the dinner and up to $10,000 for a ten-person table.
More than 650 party faithful attended, although the party had not yet estimated the income the event generated, said state party spokeswoman Phoebe Sweet.
That is a significant drop from 2007, when an estimated 2,300 attendees were drawn to the dinner by a televised debate between then-presidential candidates including front runners Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Edwards.
This year’s Jefferson Jackson dinner was not without star power. Former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore was they keynote speaker.
The most powerful Democrats in the state, Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Dina Titus and Rep. Shelley Berkeley, were joined by gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, state Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, state Controller Kim Wallin, state Treasurer Kate Marshall and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.
Cortez Masto set the tone of the evening, defending her recent refusal to accede to Gov. Jim Gibbons’ demand that she file a lawsuit over the recent passage of health care reform legislation. The legislative fight for health care reform was the main them of the event.
Cortez Masto thanked fellow Democrats for their support over the past week, saying it is “so important that we stand up and fight for the values and issues that are important to us as Democrats and as people who live in this community and who want the qualify of life we so deserve.”
Other speakers called the health care legislation a major victory for the party, one that demonstrates Democrats’ commitment to social and economic justice issues.
Much of the credit for passing the controversial legislation went to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was on hand to raise money for his upcoming re-election campaign and receive the state party’s first Hope Award.
The keynote speaker, former Vice President Al Gore, praised Reid for his leadership on the bill and for fighting for the average person.
He noted that most Americans are not born wealthy and need access to quality education, health care, clean water and jobs to have a fair chance at success. Gore said that during George W. Bush’s presidency, the average American became poorer while the rich became richer, making it tougher for average people to get ahead.
“Laws and policies have everything to do with whether the average person stands a fair chance in life,” Gore said.
He and others also poked fun at Republicans such as Gov. Jim Gibbons, Sen. John Ensign and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who spoke in Reid’s hometown of Searchlight at a Tea Party rally earlier in the day.
“Anger is not a position; divisiveness is not a strategy,” Gore said. “We need ideas that work to improve the lives of real people.”
Democrats said Palin and Tea Party activists must not be allowed to convince people they represent the average person.
“She doesn’t talk for me,” Berkley said to rousing applause.