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April 24, 2014

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Obama targets home issues in Vegas visit

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Steve Marcus

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama listens Tuesday as Las Vegas homeowner Felicitas Rosel addresses an invitation-only audience at the College of Southern Nevada.

Return to Nevada

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama talks with Francisco Cano, left, and his wife Felicitas Rosel at their home in North Las Vegas. The casino workers told Sen. Obama they are afraid of losing their home to foreclosure. Launch slideshow »

Barack Obama returned to Las Vegas on Tuesday to shore up his weaknesses in Nevada, which is in the heart of a must-win region if he is to take the presidency in November. The freshman senator from Illinois lost the state’s Democratic caucus in January by 6 percentage points.

Obama, who is now close to sewing up the Democratic nomination following a long battle with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, performed poorly with Hispanics during the caucus, losing by a 2-1 margin, according to exit polls.

Both here and in later primaries, working-class Democrats found Obama’s often soaring rhetoric wanting in specifics about “kitchen table” issues, including insecurities about keeping their homes, jobs and health care.

And finally, Democrats hungry for victory questioned whether Obama would take on the Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, with the kind of tough politics required to win a national race.

Obama started his day here at the home of Felicitas Rosel and Francisco Cano, a married couple living in northeast Las Vegas who work at the Bellagio and struggle to pay their bills.

He talked of that visit in remarks later at an invitation-only town hall event at the College of Southern Nevada. Then he unloaded, trying to kill all three birds of prey — those glaring weaknesses revealed by the caucus — with one rhetorical rock.

“I just had the privilege of visiting” the couple, Obama said. “Today, John McCain is having a different kind of meeting. He’s holding a fundraiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona. No cameras. No reporters. And we all know why. Sen. McCain doesn’t want to be seen, hat in hand, with the president whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years.”

He continued: “I don’t think the American people want to continue the disastrous economic policies that have helped create catastrophes like the housing crisis that we’re here to discuss today.”

In one stroke, Obama made a dig at McCain by tying him to Bush, recalled his conversation with a Hispanic couple struggling to pay the bills, and introduced housing security as an issue he’ll fight for.

It was a clear sign that the Obama campaign had been sharpened by the long primary season.

After his prepared remarks Obama took questions, mollifying another complaint — about his campaign’s lack of back-and-forth with voters.

The camp of McCain, who is campaigning in Reno today, responded quickly.

His spokesman, Tucker Bounds, released a statement: “Whether it’s fighting wasteful government spending, addressing global climate change or advocating a more effective strategy in Iraq, John McCain has clear but respectful differences of opinions with the president. However, it isn’t surprising that Barack Obama is trying to disguise his lack of depth and weak leadership on economic issues with political generalizations and partisan attacks.”

After criticizing Obama’s plan to use activist government policies to stem foreclosures, the statement concluded: “It’s clear that he just isn’t ready to lead our economy.”

And so the pattern, sure to be repeated from now until November, has been set: Obama will tie McCain to Bush and argue that the Republican represents the failed policies of the Bush era. McCain will say Obama is out of his depth, not ready, too liberal.

Nevadans will be inundated with these messages — on TV, in the mail, and during visits from candidates and their surrogates. That’s because if Obama can’t win Ohio or Florida, which have been difficult for Democratic presidential nominees in recent election cycles, he must win three of the following four states: Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and New Hampshire, though a Virginia or North Carolina victory would make the West less necessary.

In his appearances at both CSN and the Rosel-Cano home, Obama laid out part of his proposal for economic security and keeping people in their homes: support for pending legislation that would help borrowers and lenders renegotiate adjustable-rate mortgages and switch to fixed 30-year mortgages; make an additional $10 billion in bonds available for first-time homebuyers and those trying to avoid foreclosure; create simpler, easier-to-understand loan disclosures so that borrowers understand their loans; toughen predatory lending law.

Obama has also proposed cutting some taxes for lower-income people.

McCain would make permanent the temporary tax cuts passed by the Republican Congress and signed by Bush, while also cutting corporate taxes. He believes this would spur economic development.

In a California speech in March, McCain said he’s “committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.”

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