North Las Vegas, Nevada—President Barack Obama campaigned in a rain soaked Las Vegas on Wednesday, opening his speech with a focus on education before returning to his attacks on Mitt Romney for wanting to "shower" the rich in tax cuts and slash funds for schools.
"Governor Romney said the only reason he would keep the Department of Education around is to push back against teachers," Obama told the crowd. "That’s like saying you keep the Department of Agriculture around so you can push around farmers."
Although Obama easily won the state four years ago by 13 points, the economic devastation of the Great Recession has left Nevada up for grabs in 2012.
The most recent poll shows the president maintains a two-point lead, with Romney closing after a trip here last week by Republican Vice Presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan.
“Nevada is truly Ground Zero for the economic crisis -- number one in unemployment, home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies,” a Romney official told BuzzFeed. “When Obama took office Nevada's unemployment rate was 9.6%, and nearly four years later it stands at 12% and he's claiming success.”
Vegas is also home to two of the president’s wealthiest political enemies who are funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into superPACs to defeat him: billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the ninth richest man in the United States, according to Forbes; and blind hotelier Steve Wynn, the 491st richest man in the world, according to the same magazine, whose infamous anti-Obama tirade went viral last summer after he accused him of “socialist" policies.
It’s fact not lost on the Obama campaign.
Obama made thinly veiled references to his billionaire enemies Adelson and Wynn in his speech today—criticizing "some rich guy writing a ten million dollar check” to buy negative ads—and in his speech yesterday in Reno, Nevada.
“They’re betting that each $10 million check from some wealthy donor drowns out millions of voices,” he said on Tuesday in Reno, the other population center in Nevada the campaign is relying on to win the state.
But on the trip to Las Vegas this time, the president steered clear of Adelson and Wynn’s territory on the Vegas Strip, where both men own some of the glitziest and most expensive hotels, including The Wynn and The Venetian.
Instead, Obama stayed 45 minutes outside of the city at a Westin in Henderson, NV, and didn't go downtown at all.
On past trips, Obama had not been shy about hitting The Strip, staying at the Caesar’s Palace Penthouse in May and renting out 47 rooms on the second floor of the Westin-Element in January, according to the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review Journal. He’s also stayed at The Bellagio and the Flamingo.
The White House declined to comment on the president’s hotel choice for this trip.
An Obama campaign official said political considerations were likely not involved in the decision, pointing out that Obama has stayed on The Strip in the past and that travel decisions are usually based on logistical and security considerations.
(Caesar’s Entertainment company’s CEO Gary Loveman is a registered Democrat, and his company has given more money to Democrats than Republicans over the past five years. Westin’s Starwood PAC has given 75 percent of its donations to Democrats in 2012, according to Open Secrets.org.)
When Paul Ryan visited last week, he met with Adelson in the private 36th floor casino of The Venetian, one of the city’s five star hotels.
During the president’s speech, a white male with short blond hair angrily began to shout at the president near the metal barricades at the back of the gymnasium.
The man was immediately escorted from the building, with the president trying to laugh it off, telling the crowd: “That young man probably needed a good teacher,” according to the AP.
But the incident seemed to add an extra intensity to the event’s atmosphere, darkly tapping into what at times seems like a simmering undertone of desperation and even violence around this election.
“Nevada has been through tougher times in most states,” the president acknowledged at the end of his speech, before calling on more people to register.
New registrations were key to success in 2008, with Obama getting over 100,000 more new voters to register than McCain.
"Take a leap of faith,” Anatole Jenkins, the campaign's regional field director told the audience before Obama took the stage, saying he “needs every single person [to do what] he can, whatever he can, where he can…I ask you not to sit down on the couch.”