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September 18, 2014

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‘Jury’ hears final arguments

Clinton and Obama campaigns give it their final shot in Las Vegas

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This all began 18 months ago with a show of raw political power by Sen. Harry Reid, who leveraged his position as then-Senate minority leader and his relationship with Howard Dean and other members of the Democratic National Committee to make Nevada an early presidential voting state.

And it will end today with a show of raw political power by the winner, who will have managed to build an organization, recruit volunteers, persuade voters, dominate the media narrative and get his or her people to the caucus sites.

The entire effort by the major campaigns, and especially New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, has consumed millions of dollars and thousands of hours of labor. Thousands of Nevadans, whose commitment and passion were questioned by the local and national media, have given over their lives to the campaign, especially during the past few weeks.

With candidates hitting Elko, Reno and Las Vegas in appearances Friday, the race ends as it began, with Clinton dominating the narrative. She was first to land major endorsements of important figures, such as her state chairman, Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid.

This week, she used the run-up to the Nevada caucus to teach the less politically experienced Obama about rough politics, attacking him at every turn. He’s suspect on Yucca Mountain, having accepted money from the nuclear industry. He’s suspect on abortion rights, having voted “present” on an abortion-related issue in the Illinois Legislature. He’s suspect on gaming, having raised the issue of its social and moral costs and opposed its spread when in Illinois.

All three issues are considered fundamental to Nevada Democrats.

She accused him of wanting to raise taxes, and she questioned his ability to manage the federal bureaucracy after he said he didn’t see that as the chief role of the president. Plus, he spoke positively of President Reagan.

On each issue, Obama and his team responded, sometimes angrily: His record on Yucca is no different from Clinton’s, and she has also taken money from the nuclear industry. He’s been endorsed by leaders of the abortion rights movement and has a spotless record on the issue. Gaming is regulated by states, not the federal government. He offered up Nevada as a model of good gaming regulation and won the endorsement of the casino workers’ big union, the Culinary.

The tax increase would be levied on the wealthy and would go toward saving Social Security.

The president should have a vision and lead the country toward it, not shuffle papers around, Obama said. He was merely holding up Reagan as a model of a president who could mobilize people for change.

All this back-and-forth no doubt was confusing and even maddening to voters.

But now Nevada voters must decide by showing up at their caucus locations this morning.

On the eve of the contest, the candidates offered their final arguments in their final appearances in Las Vegas.

“When it is all said and done, it’s not about ... those of us running,” Clinton told a crowd of several thousand packed into the gym of Greenspun Junior High School in Henderson.

“It’s about you, your children, grandchildren. It’s about your future, and I am doing everything I can to make sure tomorrow is about you.”

With her husband, President Clinton, daughter, Chelsea, and one-time presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark standing behind her, Clinton then ticked off the array of daunting challenges awaiting the next president: the war in Iraq, “a war to win in Afghanistan,” an economy “showing increasing problems that are affecting the lives of so many people here in Nevada and across America,” 47 million Americans without health insurance, $100-per-barrel oil.

She pledged middle-class tax cuts, universal health care and a plan for withdrawal from Iraq in her first 60 days if elected. She also promised to introduce a $3,500-per-child tax credit to make college more affordable.

“I’m running for president because I know we can do better,” she said. “Some might say, how could we not do better?”

Obama, meanwhile, gave his standard stump speech to hundreds of supporters and more than a few still-undecided voters at UNLV on Friday night.

He made a last push, highlighting his positions on Iraq, health care and education. But he also addressed attacks on his experience and attacked Clinton -- by name, for once.

Pointing to her answer in Tuesday’s debate that she hoped a bill she voted for wouldn’t pass, he said that after spending too much time in Washington, “You don’t speak English. You don’t speak Spanish. You speak Washington-speak.”

The crowd was made up mostly of sign-waving supporters, including volunteers who planned to work today. Among them were Kristen Carter and her mother, Anne Burford-Johnson, who arrived from California on Friday morning and were set to put signs on doors at 5:30 a.m. today.

“We’re maxed out, but we’d rather see him than go to sleep,” Burford-Johnson said. “When you see him, the man inspires. It gives us energy.”

Obama closed his Nevada campaign before a packed ballroom at Caesars Palace at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

Obama has been advertised as the first viable black presidential candidate. At Caesars, he embraced the legacy of the civil rights movement.

“We’ve been told for so long it’s not possible. We have to wait for somebody to tell us it’s possible,” he said. “Don’t tell me I can’t do something.

“When I’m president, we’re going to take young men standing around street corners, and we’re going to start reaching them and we will say, ‘We have not given up on you.’”

Earlier at Obama’s UNLV rally, Mary Garrido said she planned to caucus today -- but still didn’t know which candidate she would support.

“My daughter told me to take a look at Obama, and I want to hear what he has to say,” she said.

After the speech, she called Obama “an inspirational speaker,” but said she was still in the undecided column.

Then -- with about 14 hours to decide -- she was off to Clinton’s rally.

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