Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010 | 2 a.m.
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President Barack Obama poked some fun at his right-hand U.S. senator on Friday, telling a Las Vegas crowd that Harry Reid isn’t the flashiest guy around, talks softly, gives wonky speeches and “doesn’t move real quick.”
“But Harry Reid does the right thing,” Obama told a crowd of some 9,000 enthusiasts at Orr Middle School.
The pep rally was part of Obama’s nationwide “Moving America Forward” tour, an effort by the Democratic Party to stir the same emotions that got Obama elected two years ago.
And while the turnout in Las Vegas was smaller than his pull elsewhere — a crowd estimated at 37,500 gathered earlier in the day to hear Obama at the University of Southern California — the party faithful offered charged responses as Obama rallied them to vote for Reid, Rep. Dina Titus — each of whom is facing a tough midterm re-election challenge — and Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is facing an easier re-election bid in her Las Vegas-anchored district.
Don’t blame them, he told the crowd, for an economy that went sour under Republican leadership.
Nevada, specifically Titus’ 3rd Congressional District where the president spoke Friday, is ground zero for two of the most highly contested races in the nation that are expected to be harbingers of whether Democrats will retain control of Congress.
The president encouraged new, young and minority voters who elected him to the White House two years ago to come out with the same force in these midterm elections, which historically attract fewer voters.
“If everybody who showed up in 2008 shows up in 2010, we will win this election,” he said.
While the rally was aimed at reinvigorating Democrats who seem to have turned lethargic, Hispanic voters were especially courted. A number of Hispanics, including a few recent immigrants, were tapped to speak to the crowd, and several elected officials, led by Obama, addressed Hispanic voters directly.
And Obama recalled the spirit of his own election.
“Just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom — the wisdom that said you can’t overcome cynicism in politics; the wisdom that says the special interests always win; the wisdom that says somehow the folks with the big money who are running the most negative ads, somehow they’re always going to be successful; the wisdom that says we can’t tackle big challenges in America anymore.
“You may think: No, we can’t. We think: Yes, we can. Sí, se puede,” Obama said, invoking his famous 2008 campaign slogan in both English and Spanish.
“There is no doubt that this is going to be a difficult election,” he acknowledged. “And that’s because we’ve been through an incredibly difficult time as a nation.”
Blame the Republicans, he said. “They are basically betting on all of you having amnesia. They’re banking on the fact that you might forget who got us in this mess in the first place.”
During the presidential race, nearly 11 percent of early voters were Hispanic. Overall, Hispanics made up 15 percent of Nevada’s electorate and Obama won 78 percent of them, according to exit polls.
Democrats hope several recent events will push Latino voters more solidly into their camp. Latinos for Reform, an independent political group, this week released ads that urged Hispanics to sit out the election.
And Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle told a group of Hispanic high school students that she wasn’t sure that the obviously Latino men featured in one of her campaign commercials were actually Hispanic and claimed that America’s northern border was the most porous and the point of entry for terrorists. In an apparent attempt to backtrack on the ads the students described as racist, Angle told the group that some “look a little more Asian” than Hispanic. Angle also hasn’t denounced the Latinos for Reform ads.
Democrats used the Angle gaffes as fodder for their speeches.
“We know the difference between Hispanics and Asians,” Berkley said. “We don’t think there are too many dark-skinned Canadians coming over the border.”
“Each of you looks like a Nevadan to me,” Reid said.
Titus took a different approach, but still dug into Angle.
“I don’t think the Democrats are wimps. I don’t think we need to man up,” she said, an homage to Angle’s new favorite phrase, which she has lobbed at Reid half a dozen times over the past week.
Titus is neck and neck in a tight race against Republican Joe Heck.
Democrats hope rallies like Friday’s will help stave off a Republican revolution similar to 1994, when the GOP took control of both congressional chambers for the first time in decades. A recent Pew Research poll found that anti-incumbent sentiment is on par with 1994 levels and far surpasses that seen in the past three midterm elections.
National surveys also show that the GOP retains a wide lead in projected voter turnout. The Pew poll, released Friday, found that
50 percent of likely voters lean Republican, and 40 percent lean Democratic.
In Nevada, the trend appears to be less favorable to Republicans. After nearly a week of early voting, Republicans have a small lead — about 1.5 percent — in statewide turnout but no real surge. In Clark County, Democrats are ahead by about 10,000 votes, with about a quarter of ballots cast.
Both parties know November victories will depend on turnout, and voter outreach on both sides appears to be outpacing 2006 efforts. Enthusiasm among Republican voters is on the upswing, but Democrats are fighting back with a ground game that rivals, if not exceeds, that seen two years ago.
“There are more of us than them,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid said. “If we show up, we will win.”
Even so, Democrats face an uphill battle. The anti-incumbency movement to “kick the bums out” is strong, and Democrats have struggled to convince voters — even Democratic ones — that they will be able to reignite the stagnant economy and create jobs. Las Vegas’ unemployment rate hit 15 percent in September, the highest in the history of the state.
Obama acknowledged that the country, and particularly Nevada, is in the midst of one of its most difficult times. He said he understands that voters are frustrated and discouraged. But, he warned, that’s not a reason to stay away from the polls.
“Imagine if our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents had said, ‘Oh, this is too hard; oh, I’m feeling tired; oh, I’m feeling discouraged; oh, somebody is saying something mean about me. We would not be here today,” Obama said.
“We got through war and depression. We have made this union more perfect because somebody somewhere has been willing to stand up in the face of uncertainty, stand up in the face of difficulty,” he said. “That is how change has come. And that’s the spirit we have to restore in 2010.”