Published Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 | 1:27 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 | 3 p.m.
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President Barack Obama spun a single theme — “our work is not yet done” — through what is likely his last speech to a Las Vegas crowd before the election.
It was a phrase he clearly hoped would drive Nevadans to the polls, to vote to give him a second term in the White House.
But he also used it to tie Silver Staters to the rest of the country, and to tie them into a spirit that Obama’s enjoyed the last few days — and hopes might carry him through to a victory in Tuesday's election.
“For the past few days all of us have been focused on one of the worst storms in our lifetime … awed by the destructive power of nature, mourning those who have been lost,” Obama said, referring to superstorm Sandy, the storm that decimated parts of New York, New Jersey and East Coast states earlier this week.
“When disaster strikes, we see America at its best; all the petty differences that consume us in normal times somehow melt away,” Obama continued. “A spirit that says we’re all in this together, that we rise and fall as one nation.”
Presidential politics had taken a holiday while the Eastern Seaboard was drowning, and today is the first day Obama has been back on the campaign trail, completing a three-state swing through swing-states Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado.
The severity of the catastrophe left many wondering if Mother Nature’s October Surprise might prevent voters from reaching the polls in states that were presumed to favor Obama.
But instead, the episode seems to have given the president a boost.
The disaster response effort gave the president an opportunity to approach a public all but glued to the storm coverage as the man in the White House leading a united country, not just as a partisan candidate.
He’s now translating that to the campaign trail, telling voters he’ll be there for them — and asking them to be there for him on Election Day.
“I’m not giving up on the fight, and I hope you aren’t either, Nevada,” Obama said. “I didn’t fight this fight for any partisan advantage. … Their bet is on cynicism. But Nevada, my bet’s on you.”
It’s hardly a totally post-partisan message. Mitt Romney, Obama was quick to remind voters, wouldn’t offer them the same deal.
“In five days, we will choose our next president. And Nevada, it’s more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s more than just a choice between two parties,” Obama said. “You’re going to be making a choice between two fundamentally different visions of America.”
Republicans and Romney, in Obama’s narrative, are peddling a vision that includes lining the pockets of bankers, denying health insurance to the middle class and exacerbating the culture of secrecy in Washington.
Meanwhile, Obama directed his message to a spectrum of middle-class workers — teachers, janitors, waiters in casinos, kids in inner cities — promising to be their booster in the White House.
“They need a champion,” Obama said. “And that’s why I need you, Nevada — to make sure their voices are heard.”
The president spoke to the crowd estimated at 4,500 at the Cheyenne Sports Complex in North Las Vegas. The speech went longer than most of his recent rally messages have run — almost as if the message was so important he didn’t want to give up the stage until he was sure he had driven every ounce of its urgency home.
There are only five days left until Election Day, and only one more of them is a day when Nevadans can cast an early vote.
That made this visit — Obama’s 10th this year and second in just over a week — possibly his last opportunity to ask Nevadans to stay the course and stick with him for another four years.
“If you’re willing to turn out for me, we’ll win Clark County again, we’ll win Nevada again, we’ll win this election, and together we’ll reaffirm the bonds and the spirit that makes our country great,” Obama pledged to the crowd. “Let’s go vote! Let’s get this done.”
But as much as the Obama campaign would like that to be the end of it, the contest in the Silver State continues.
The president has been leading by a small margin in Nevada polling. But the Romney campaign isn’t giving up the state without a fight.
As Obama departs Nevada, it will be up to Paul Ryan to throw the Republicans’ counter-punches at events this afternoon and evening in Reno and Las Vegas.
Between them, Romney and Ryan also have visited Nevada 10 times this year, pitching voters on a message that sounds a lot like Obama from four years ago: It’s time for a change.
They blame Obama for the sluggish recession, for weighing down recovery with too much government spending, too many taxes and a too-regulated approach to the health care and financial services industries.
A Romney administration, they have argued, would be a fresh and prosperous start.
In his comments Thursday afternoon, Obama seemed to anticipate their line would be coming after him.
“Gov. Romney’s been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up all the same policies that failed us so very badly … and with a straight face, he’s offering them up as change,” Obama said. “Now let me tell you, Nevada, we know what change looks like. And what the governor's offering sure ain’t change.”
Change would seem to be the wrong message for a sitting president hoping the country decides to trust him to stay the course. But it is the notion that carried him to a win in 2008, and Obama needs to reclaim some of the sentiment that swept him into office in 2008 if he hopes to stay there another four years.
So Obama made one last pitch to reclaim the mantle Romney’s been trying to wrest away in Nevada, and make it his own again in a new era.
“I know what real change is because I fought for it. I’ve got the scars to prove it. You do, too,” Obama said. “And after all we’ve been through together, Nevada, we sure can’t give up now.”
Sun reporter Brian Nordli contributed to this story.