Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008 | 2 a.m.
On his first visit to Nevada, 21 months ago, when he spoke before 3,500 people at the Clark County Government Center, Sen. Barack Obama decried “slash and burn” political tactics and promised to unite the country around a “new kind of politics.”
Veteran political observers said it was high-minded, but naive.
In retrospect, however, it appears now that it was all part of a well-executed plan to build up Obama’s image as a uniter, as a positive force for change, so that when it came time to attack and counterattack, as he did first in the long Democratic primary campaign against Sen. Hillary Clinton and now against Republican opponent Sen. John McCain, the sallies would have more credibility and power.
By most accounts, the strategy has worked: Polls show that despite the barrage of negative ads Obama has unleased on McCain and the regular attacks on McCain’s policy prescriptions, the public, by a wide margin, thinks McCain has run the more negative campaign.
And indeed, in a speech in Henderson Saturday to a crowd estimated by local police to be 15,000, Obama used the technique in miniature. Having left behind much of his talk about a new politics months ago to focus more on bread-and-butter economic issues, he returned to his lofty origins, waxing on about the determination of the American people once they unite behind a common purpose.
And then he stuck in the shiv: “We’ve tried it John McCain’s way. We’ve tried it George Bush’s way. Deep down, Senator McCain knows that, which is why his campaign said that ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’ That’s why I’m talking about the economy. That’s why he’s spending these last weeks calling me every name in the book except a child o’ God.”
Obama accused McCain, the Arizona Republican, of practicing “say-anything, do anything” politics instead of offering solutions to the country’s economic crisis.
Then it was back to the high-minded: “Nevada: At this moment, in this election, we have the chance to do more than just beat back this kind of politics in the short term. We can end it once and for all,” the Illinois senator told the crowd gathered on the football field of Coronado High School. “We can prove that the one thing more powerful than the politics of anything goes is the will and determination of the American people.”
The competitiveness of the race here in Nevada was on clear display Saturday. Even as Obama was making his 20th appearance in Nevada and second in just one week, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rallied a few hundred Republican volunteers at McCain’s Henderson headquarters.
The race has been a dead heat for months, but recent polls have shown Obama pulling slightly ahead here. His campaign’s intense focus on early voting seems to have paid off. At the close of early voting Friday, Democrats had a 90,000-voter advantage in Clark and Washoe counties, where 87 percent of voters live.
Nevertheless, Obama, taking on a minister’s cadence, implored the crowd to vote, make phone calls and knock on doors.
“Don’t believe for a second this election is over. Don’t think for a minute that power concedes,” Obama said. “We have to work like our future depends on it in these last few days, because it does.”
Early on, the audience booed at the mention of McCain’s name.
“You don’t need to boo,” Obama said. “You just need to vote.”
Obama summed up his policy proposals: cutting taxes for 95 percent of working families (he would raise them for those making more than $250,000 a year), giving tax credits to companies that create American jobs, investing $15 billion a year in renewable energy, providing near universal health care, investing in early childhood education and ending the war in Iraq.
Obama added he would “finish the fight with bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.”
Nearby, a few hours later, Giuliani, dubbed “America’s Mayor” after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, used a less subtle approach than Obama, attacking with gusto.
About the Republican vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: “She’s a heckuva lot more qualified than Barack Obama,” he said with a wide grin, later calling Obama the “least qualified candidate in our memory.”
The former mayor, whose presidential campaign burned through $50 million and won just a single delegate, attacked the media as in the tank for Obama and mocked Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden as a chatty gaffe-master.
Giuliani called Obama’s tax cut plan “welfare” because because he said it would give money to Americans who don’t pay taxes. (Although many Americans don’t make enough to pay income tax, those who work pay 7.65 percent in payroll taxes.)
“Who do you trust to protect this country? John McCain or Barack Obama?” Giuliani asked with mock exasperation and incredulity, before sending out the Republican volunteers to go knock on doors.