Justin M. Bowen / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Feb. 19, 2010 | 4:05 p.m.
It seems his every word is scripted, but sometimes with President Obama, it's hard to tell.
Sometimes he unwittingly takes a left-field shot at Las Vegas during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. Sometimes he reveals his mother-in-law might like to hit the casinos. This, during a speech at a casino.
The sound-bite moment from today's appearance by Obama occurred early, the minute he set up behind the podium at the Pinyon Room at Aria's conference center: "Let me set the record straight. I love Vegas, always have." Then a standing ovation, after which he repeated, "Love Vegas. I enjoy myself every time I've got an opportunity to visit."
But what I liked was a lot later, near the end of the 45-minute speech, when Obama said, "I look forward to coming back to Las Vegas, but my mother-in-law (Marian Robinson) is going to get here first. She comes quite frequently ... maybe I shouldn't say that in front of the press."
Lovely! The President of the United States seems to have a mother-in-law conundrum! How very Henny Youngman of him.
Of course, maybe the entire disclosure about the gambling mother-in-law was planned, including the aside about revealing such information to the press. But it underscored why Obama is so effective as a candidate on the stump: He's a hard guy to stay mad at. On Feb. 2 he jabbed Las Vegas again by saying, ""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."
Since that comment, I've talked to many Obama supporters, including some who traveled to Denver to see him speak at INVESCO Field to accept the Democratic presidential nomination, and those who waited for more than an hour to see him speak at Cashman Field three weeks later. The prevailing response has been a variation of, "I wish he'd knock that off."
Naturally, Mayor Oscar Goodman was so torqued he refused to even meet with Obama in Las Vegas unless there was an explicit apology from the president for invoking Vegas a second time as an example of where not to blow money.
But today, Obama stopped short of a full-scale apology, saying, "I took a little heat for something I said. I didn't mean to take a shot at Las Vegas. I was just saying that the only place you should spend your college savings is in college."
Obama also said he played some poker, drew to a royal flush and "cut the deficit in half." After outlining his plans to provide more than a billion dollars in aid to the states most harmed by the collapse of the housing market (Nevada leading that five-state pack, followed by California, Arizona, Florida and Michigan), he said, "What happens in Vegas reflects what happens across America." With LVCVA President Rossi Rallenkotter among the 30 people representing Las Vegas executives and service-industry employees seated behind Obama, it was a statement that turned, "What Happens Here, Stays Here" on its head. The president also said, to enthusiastic applause, "I don't want Vegas to be just getting by. I want Vegas to be thriving."
Obama was in campaign form throughout the speech, smooth and confident, reminding those in the house of the type of soaring oratory that fills stadiums. His poll numbers might be lackluster now, but he can still captivate an audience without needing to jot talking points on his hand with a Sharpie.
An appearance choreographed in part to boost the flagging popularity of Sen. Harry Reid, Obama said Reid would be championing a "tourism promotion bill" in the Senate. "Other countries are not playing for second. They are playing for first."
A tourism promotion bill? That's something we can get our minds around. Better save Obama's "I love Vegas!" clip. It might come in handy.
More from the floor
After the Obama speech, Rep. Shelley Berkley said, "He hit a home run. He said everything he needed to say." She sat next to Rep. Dina Titus. ... CityCenter Chief Executive Officer and President Bobby Baldwin said, "He put out as many fires as you could expect in one speech." ... In the audience, longtime Republican Party operative Sig Rogich. ... Luxor and Excalibur President Felix Rappaport and Monte Carlo President Anton Nikodemus were in attendance, too. Rappaport is now clean-shaven; Nikodemus wears a goatee, new looks for both. ... Cosmopolitan President John Unwin, formerly GM of Caesars Palace, on hand. Cosmo should be open by the end of 2010 to finish the development at CityCenter. ... In introducing Harry Reid, MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren talked of the "10,000 jobs" the project created. He says 12,000 in the campaign commercial he cut for Reid. ... One way to garner attention at an Obama speech is to wear a red shirt. What's it mean? You're asked, repeatedly. ... Paul Murad, Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, is no longer to be termed a "real estate magnate." He's a small-businessman. ... A former Lt. Governor, and Republican, Lorraine Hunt Bono was seated. ... Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, Assembly Joe Hogan, and State Sen. David Parks, all in attendance. Hogan and Parks were introduced by Obama. ... UNLV President Dr. Neal Smatresk was one who expected Obama to make a public embrace of Vegas and pump up Harry Reid in a significant way.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.