Published Thursday, July 8, 2010 | 4:17 p.m.
Updated Thursday, July 8, 2010 | 9:30 p.m.
Southern Nevadans packed a ballroom at the Aria resort early Thursday evening to hear President Barack Obama offer high praise for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat facing a tough re-election bid against Republican Sharron Angle.
Obama lifted the spirits of the standing room-only political rally when he called Reid a fighter for Nevada who cares about working class families.
“He’s a man of principle,” Obama said. “He’s a man of his word. He comes across soft spoken. But anyone who knows Harry knows he’s made of strong stuff. He’s one tough guy.”
The president credited Reid with orchestrating what Obama called the greatest legislative session in the history of Congress, one that included health care reform and tax breaks for 95 percent of Americans.
“He doesn’t always do what’s easy, he doesn’t always do what’s popular, but he always does what’s right,” Obama said.
Obama did not mention Angle by name but criticized her nonetheless, saying she has more extreme positions than those held by the Republicans now in Washington.
He was particularly critical of an initial statement from Angle in which she termed as “a slush fund” the $20 billion British Petroleum agreed to pay to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill.
“A few hours later her campaign puts out a release that says she didn’t mean it,” Obama said. “I’m sure she meant slush fund in the nicest way.”
Obama also praised Reid for helping to give federal tax breaks to more than 1 million Nevadans and for helping to extend unemployment benefits for 300,000 Nevadans. He also credited the senator for creating thousands of new jobs in the state, including those involving clean energy.
The president acknowledged that there are tough days ahead because the nation is still recovering from economic policies launched under the Bush administration. But Obama said he and Reid are all about moving forward, not going backward as the president claimed would occur if Republicans controlled Washington.
“Thanks to Harry’s leadership we are about to pass legislation that will end this era of irresponsibility,” Obama said.
Reid, who embraced the president both before and after his speech, preceded Obama with a vow that he would continue fighting on behalf of Nevadans, including those who are trying to save their homes.
“We cracked down on the abusive credit card companies and we’re rooting out mortgage fraud,” he said.
The senator criticized those that he said seem to take pleasure in rising unemployment rates.
“I don’t think this country has any place for people who root for failure,” he said.
During the campaign Reid has reminded voters that he contacted banks to request that they lend money to MGM Resorts International to finish construction of CityCenter, where the Aria is located. The banks complied, something he said helped to save 22,000 jobs.
One who offered praise at the rally was CityCenter employee Penny Webster.
“I am here in appreciation of Harry Reid because thanks to him I have a job,” she said.
Obama was scheduled to attend a private fundraiser for Reid following the rally.
Obama arrived in Las Vegas late this afternoon for two days of events that began tonight at CityCenter.
Air Force One arrived at McCarran International Airport about 4:15 p.m. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Rep. Dina Titus greeted Obama after he walked down the steps from Air Force One.
After a brief discussion with the dignitaries, he departed in the presidential motorcade just before 4:30 p.m.
A 35-member coalition of Las Vegans who support immigration reform got in line about four hours in advance of the rally. The front of their T-shirts read "We need you Obama, keep pushing" while the backs read "Republicans, what's holding you back." One of the coalition leaders, 22-year-old UNLV student Michael Flores, said he came to the rally because "Reid is a hero in Nevada."
Reid campaign volunteer Ellie Campbell, a 72-year-old retired hair dresser from Las Vegas, was walking along a corridor of the Aria resort with an armful of Reid for Senate t-shirts.
"Harry Reid has the clout in Washington, D.C.," Campbell said without hesitation. "If we get another senator like the one running against him, Nevada will be considered 'backwoods.'"
Campbell said Reid has a right to claim that he helped CityCenter when it needed the help.
"He went and talked to the banks and they went ahead and did what he asked," she said.
On Friday, Obama will discuss the economy during an invitation-only speech at UNLV. The president will give remarks beginning at 9:20 a.m., then depart Las Vegas at 10:30 a.m.
Obama spoke earlier today in Kansas City, Mo., about the economy and criticized Republicans, saying they have no new ideas and say "no" to nearly everything, according to a Kansas City Star report.
"They’re trying to sell you the same stuff they’ve been peddling," Obama said. "They are peddling that same snake oil they’ve been peddling for years."
Obama also spoke on Reid’s behalf at a CityCenter appearance in February.
The president used that appearance to state that he loved Las Vegas, an attempt to quiet critics who felt he had snubbed the city by suggesting earlier that families saving for college should not blow their money here.
The president also said at the time that Las Vegas was an example of a city that grew and thrived because of a combination of private investment and a strong regulatory structure.
Obama’s return appearance caps a week that reflects the type of clout Reid said he can wield on behalf of Nevada as Senate majority leader.
On Tuesday Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki accompanied the senator on a tour of the VA Hospital in Las Vegas that is under construction and expected to open in 2012. Reid has said that he secured $600 million for a project that is expected to “keep as many as 63,000 Nevada veterans from having to go to California for their care.”
On Thursday, prior to the political rally, Reid was joined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to announce the creation of a Solar Demonstration Zone at the Nevada Test Site. The zone will cover more than 25 square miles and will be used to demonstrate and test new solar technologies.
Reid on Tuesday said he was happy the president would be returning to Las Vegas.
"The president and I spend a lot of time together as a result of his job and my job," Reid said, adding: "He and his staff love Las Vegas. They’re looking forward to this trip."