Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | 6:20 p.m.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stressed his focus on fueling job creation in a hastily planned 15-minute speech at a Las Vegas furniture warehouse Tuesday in the hours before he swept enough delegates to technically be named the party’s nominee.
Romney’s speech, in which he heavily emphasized President Barack Obama’s 3-year-old foible discouraging people from visiting Las Vegas, completely ignored the fact that the Texas primary would push him over the 1,144-delegate threshold to win the GOP nomination.
In his sole public Nevada appearance of the day, Romney also ignored the reason for his Silver State swing — a big-ticket fundraiser with Las Vegas icon and reality TV star Donald Trump and a quieter sit-down with casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Instead, Romney spent his brief time before the crowd of more than 600 supporters portraying Obama as a president who has misspent his first term making it more difficult for America’s economy to recover.
For his refrain, Romney used Obama’s 2009 comments discouraging corporations receiving government bailouts from blowing money on a “trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl.”
“He came into the White House and told people not to bother going to Las Vegas for business meetings,” Romney said. “That sure didn’t help. When I become the next president of the United States, I’ll come to Las Vegas. I love it here.
“Sometimes, I just don’t think he understands what it takes to help people.”
Romney accused Obama of failing to understand that discouraging travel to Las Vegas would cause a “cascade of job losses.”
Try as he might to focus the conversation on the economy during his public event, Romney’s evening activities ensured that a political sideshow starring Trump dominated headlines throughout the day.
Trump headlined a $2,500 a plate fundraiser on the Strip that the Romney campaign hoped would bring in $2 million.
The fundraiser rounded out a week of Trump money-making events scheduled by the Romney campaign. In an effort to cultivate small-money donors, the campaign sold $3 raffle tickets for a dinner with Trump.
While Trump is an audacious counterpoint to the more staid presidential candidate, his insistence on questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate has been a nagging distraction.
Romney has tried somewhat to distance himself from the issue, saying he believes Obama was born in the United States, but has stopped short of condemning Trump’s comments.
In his speech at Somers Furniture, Romney made an oblique reference to the controversy.
“In addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before becoming president of the United States.”
Trump’s focus on the birth certificate question, however, doesn’t necessarily irritate the Republican base that Romney is hoping to keep enthused enough to counter Obama’s turnout machine.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get an honest answer about that,” said Russ Martin, a Las Vegas Republican who attended Romney’s public rally Tuesday. “I don’t really see Donald Trump as a negative. He’s got a lot of money and if wants to contribute to the Romney campaign, that’s a good thing.”
Others in the crowd at the Las Vegas furniture store said Romney’s association with the audacious Trump isn’t the wisest of moves.
“I think that was bad advice,” said Stan McClure, of Las Vegas, a Republican retiree. “The (birth certificate issue) is a dead issue. It definitely hurts Romney’s campaign.”
Jeanette Northcutt, of Las Vegas, said the birth certificate issue is more of a distraction than a credible campaign issue.
“Trump is a character and a personality and anything he says people will listen to,” she said. “But Obama is our president. All that other stuff people need to put behind them and believe in what Romney will do in a big way for our country.”
In a sparsely attended protest outside of the furniture warehouse, Democrats once again hammered on Romney for his time at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought and sold businesses. Some of those businesses filed bankruptcy and were forced to lay off employees.
“Look at what he did to workers,” said Danny Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO. “He left people in the lurch.”
Romney’s campaign, however, strategically chose Somers Furniture as the location of his speech. Somers hosted a roundtable of small-business owners in 2008 for the Obama campaign.
The owner, Debbie Somers, didn’t speak at Romney’s rally, but he used her as an example for the need to keep taxes low.
Thompson said it didn’t bother him that some people, such as Somers, may have changed their support after his first term.
“This all boils down to the average guy and the average person,” Thompson said. “The fact that Romney would give tax cuts to millionaires, it doesn’t surprise me that someone like (Somers) would switch their support.”