Published Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 | 11:18 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 | 1:40 p.m.
With the last of the presidential debates behind him, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney kicked off a final push to wrest the White House away from President Barack Obama with a campaign stop in Henderson.
Romney took the stage with running mate Paul Ryan shortly after 1 p.m. It was the first time the pair have campaigned together in Nevada.
Romney’s speech was one of the last opportunities he will have to make an in-person pitch to Nevada supporters and he used it to urge them to take advantage of early voting. His remarks also were a chance, coming mere hours after he tangled with Obama on foreign policy, for him to attempt a victory lap on his campaign performances.
“These debates have super-charged our campaign, there’s no question about it,” Romney said. “His campaign is taking on water and our campaign is full speed ahead.”
But he also took the opportunity to try and pull the campaign conversation back to where he has been focusing his efforts in this election: The economy.
“Can you afford four more years with 23 million Americans looking for a good job?” Romney asked. “How about four years where at the end of which we get Nevada unemployment down to 6 percent or lower?”
He pledged to be the better candidate for Nevadans hoping to see an increase in housing prices and a decrease in the cost of gas, as well as all seniors on Medicare and anyone with health insurance.
A lineup of Nevada Republicans running for office vouched for Romney’s economic plans in the leadup to his speech.
“He will put us on the path to more jobs, more opportunity and more prosperity,” said Rep. Joe Heck, the Republican running for reelection in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, who was obviously hoarse but managed to work the crowd with more energy than anyone other than Romney and Ryan.
“He’s got a five-point plan,” said Sen. Dean Heller, the Republican running to defend his seat in the Senate, which he’s occupied since former Nevada Sen. John Ensign resigned. “I like it and I’m sure he’s going to tell you all about it.”
Romney ran through that five-point plan and the rest of his usual bullet points for a crowd of 6,000 in Henderson, touching on everything from Obamacare to tax plans, small business and the role of energy in the economy.
Much of Romney’s message rests on the promise to bolster the economy and reduce the deficit. He has also put the blame for the country’s sluggish economic recovery on Obama.
“His vision for the future is a repeat of the past,” Romney said -- which, ironically enough, is also a charge Obama has thrown at Romney, accusing him of wanting to return the country to the Bush-administration policies in place when the recession began.
Despite the solidarity Nevada Republicans displayed with Romney onstage, the presidential candidate’s economic prescription for curing Nevada’s economic ills doesn’t always fall entirely within the comfort zone of most local Republicans.
One year ago, in what is probably his most famed local interview of this election, Romney told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial board that the housing market, which continues to be an anchor-like drag on the economy, should be allowed to “bottom out.”
Most Republicans in the state have taken great pains to firmly and repeatedly distance themselves from Romney’s words.
Romney has also been criticized for not offering enough details on the rest of his economic plan.
Many supporters cite his quarter-century of experience in the business world as the best credential to recommend him to take over the country’s top position in a time of economic turmoil.
Introducing him to the crowd at the Henderson Pavilion, Ryan called Romney a “proven job creator.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a job creator in the White House?” Ryan asked. “We only have to wait for two more weeks.”
For a Nevada audience, that demonstrates Romney and Ryan’s optimism -- and belies their greatest challenge in what time remains between now and Election Day.
Nevada is a swing state, but one in which Romney has been slightly lagging in the polls. Even when Obama faltered in the first presidential debate earlier this month, the best polling Romney could muster in Nevada was a tie. The most recent poll, released Tuesday by Republican polling firm American Research Group, put Romney two points behind Obama heading into the last two weeks of the campaign.
A protracted state of disarray in the Nevada Republican Party means the ticket isn’t getting as much local help as might have been expected. Democrats hold a large voter registration advantage across the state, and in the first weekend of early voting, registered Democrats accounted for over half the voters who cast a ballot. At last count, about 16,000 more registered Democrats had turned out than registered Republicans for early voting.
“Hey Nevada -- you ready to help us win this thing?” Paul Ryan asked the crowd during his comments just before Romney’s speech. “Don’t forget, early voting already started. You get out there and cast your vote. We need your help.”
Romney also personally urged crowd to turn out the vote -- and not just any vote.
“I need you to find a neighbor that voted for Barack Obama last time,” he told supporters, also urging them to cast their votes sooner rather than later. “This is a choice we’re going to have. And what I need you to do is get out there and vote early.”
The message was amplified by the theater’s all but strategic location next door to an early voting station at the Paseo Verde Library. The two structures share a parking lot, ensuring that all in attendance passed many reminders to cast their vote soon on their way in and out of the rally.
Romney next heads to Reno for a campaign rally Wednesday morning.