Published Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 | 10:36 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 | 11:32 a.m.
The line to get into President Barack Obama’s first official Southern Nevada campaign stop of 2012 started before sunrise, and by 7 a.m. snaked through the Canyon Springs High School parking lot requiring several campaign staffers to manage its shifting branches.
The gym was packed an hour later and chants of “O-ba-ma!” “Yes we can!” and “Four more years,” seeped through the doors, teasing those still waiting outside in intermittent rain.
Before delivering a 25-minute speech, Obama met privately with a group of teachers, and his comments afterwards focused on education.
“We are a better country than one that short changes the next generation just so we can shower tax cuts on folks who are already wealthy,” Obama said.
Obama said presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney “doesn’t think our children’s education is worth investing in.”
“Governor Romney said we’ve got enough teachers; we don’t need more,” Obama said.
Before the president took the stage, songs such as “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder and Wilco’s “I Got You,” along with a series of speakers including State Sen. Steven Horsford, helped energize the crowd. An estimated 2,100 people filled the gym, and more than 600 others watched from an overflow room, according to North Las Vegas Police figures released by the Obama campaign.
“President Obama understands that a good education cannot be a luxury,” said Horsford, who is battling Republican Danny Tarkanian for the 1st District congressional seat. The president, Horsford reminded the crowd, has worked to expand federal grants for college and other education initiatives, including allowing states like Nevada to obtain waivers to the “top-down mandates” of No Child Left Behind.
“We worked with Democrats and Republicans to fix No Child Left Behind,” Obama said. “Here in Nevada a waiver has been granted, because we want high standards but we don’t want teachers teaching to the test.”
One of the teachers Obama met with before his speech, Claritssa Sanchez, introduced the president.
“When I first started teaching five years ago my class sizes were about 33 students per class,” said Sanchez, who teaches 10th-grade world history and government at Canyon Spring. “Today I walk into a classroom with about 45 students … I wish (Gov. Romney) could spend one day in my classroom and see what its really like. When he says class sizes don’t even matter, I want to know why he thinks he knows what’s better for students than us teachers.”
Cles Saunders, a retired electrician, left his Pahrump home at 5 a.m. and arrived at 6:15 a.m. to find a line already forming outside at the high school. Saunders said he was particularly interested in the issue of education.
“I’d like to see tuition rates lowered, student debt lowered, and, in some instances, forgiven,” said Saunders, who was wearing a button depicting Obama in a Superman costume. “Progress is key, and the Republican Party has really been the party of ‘no.’”
At one point, about 10 minutes into the president’s comments, a heckler started shouting out and was forcibly removed from the gymnasium. By the end of Obama’s speech, though, his supporters were drowning out the president’s final words with boisterous chants.
Romney, who campaigned in North Las Vegas earlier this month, was scheduled to make campaign stops Wednesday in Iowa and Arkansas.
Several polls in the past week have Romney and Obama within the margin of error of each other, deadlocked with fewer than 80 days until the election.
Obama arrived in Nevada on Tuesday, and he spoke at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno before flying Tuesday night into Nellis Air Force Base. The president stayed overnight at Lake Las Vegas.
With this morning's speech behind him, Obama returned to Nellis and boarded Air Force One in a heavy thunderstorm. At 11:20 a.m., his jet departed Nellis en route to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where he is scheduled to attend a campaign event tonight at Lincoln Center.
The current two-day swing in Nevada is Obama’s sixth trip this year to the state, but his first official campaign visit of the year.