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Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

Harry Reid

AP Photo/Laura Rauch

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) greets a supporter during a campaign stop in Pahrump on Monday, April 5, 2010.

Updated Monday, April 5, 2010 | 6:33 p.m.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., greets supporters in Searchlight on Monday, April 5, 2010.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) speaks to the media after touring the Copper Mountain Solar Power Plant in Boulder City, Nev. on Monday, April 5, 2010.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kicked off his re-election campaign this morning with a speech to supporters in his hometown of Searchlight, before embarking on a statewide bus tour. He capped off his day in Las Vegas.

Facing a tough re-election campaign, Reid argued that Congress has worked to turn around the economy. He told supporters at the Searchlight Nugget Casino that while congressional efforts to save the economy from collapse were cold comfort for the unemployed, projects like the "smart grid" will put Nevada back on the right track, generating jobs and making Nevada an energy powerhouse in the next three years.

Reid also said that health care reform will reduce the national debt by $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years.

He spoke not far from where the conservative Tea Party held its March 27 rally to protest passage of the health care bill and rail against what the movement's members call a national lurch toward socialism. The Tea Party gathering, which drew 8,000 to Searchlight, was headlined by 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Reid took shots at Palin, using her trademark "you betcha," and adding, "I was going to give a speech to the folks here last weekend but I couldn't write it all on my hand."

Reid said it was good to be home: "You can't escape who you are. My roots are here. No one can take that away from me."

His three-day “Driving Nevada Forward” tour - aimed at highlighting Reid's accomplishments - later stopped in Boulder City, where Reid toured the Copper Mountain solar plant, which employs 300 construction workers. When completed later this year, the project will combine with another solar plant to become the largest facility of its kind in North America. Reid walked rows of solar panels and chatted with workers, with the media and his campaign camera crew in tow.

"The sight I enjoy is to look out there and see all those hard hats at work," Reid said afterward. "The way to solve our economic problems is more jobs."

The key challenge for Reid will be to convince Nevada voters that he has delivered for them as majority leader while the state continues to reel from record unemployment and the foreclosure crisis.

Reid's approval rating hovers in the 30s and he trails at least two of his would-be Republican opponents in public opinion polling.

The Republican Party used it as an opportunity to criticize Reid's leadership in the Senate: “Harry Reid has driven Nevada into a ditch, because since he became the majority leader the Silver State’s unemployment rate has risen from 4.4 to 13.7 percent," Jahan Wilcox, a party spokesman, said in a written statement. "Nevadans desperately need someone who is hyper-focused on creating jobs, not a partisan who is only bent on gambling Nevada’s future.”

Reid later held an event with first-responders in Pahrump, then hosted a rally in the evening in Las Vegas at the Sammy Davis Jr. Festival Plaza in Lorenzi Park in Las Vegas.

He was flanked by Democratic leaders, including Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Acknowledging the battered economy, Reid told a few hundred supporters "help is on the way." He cited the passage of health care reform and a slew of construction jobs that will come with a handful of renewable energy projects.

"I know our economy has been hit really hard," reid said. "For 20 years we had it good. But it doesn't do much good to tell someone who has lost their job that it could have been a lot worse."

He pledged to deliver jobs. He took on critics who say he has lost touch with Nevada.

"Some people say Reid is not really Nevada anymore," he said. "Come and see me in Searchlight sometime. Those are my roots. Nevada is in my blood. That is who I am."

Reid urged the crowd to volunteer and turn out voters in November. "I know what a close election is, and this is going to be a close election."

The senator will then continue his tour in Northern Nevada on Tuesday.

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