Obama and Nevada

President regularly aided state

President Obama spoke at the Reno home of Valerie and Paul Keller in Reno on May 11, 2012.

President Obama spoke at the Reno home of Valerie and Paul Keller in Reno on May 11, 2012.


On Feb. 21, 2007, the powerful labor union AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) held a presidential forum in Carson City which was attended by all the candidates—Biden, Edwards, Gravel, Kucinich, Richardson, Vilsack, even the aristocratic Hillary Clinton, though she did not meet with reporters in a news conference afterward as other candidates did.

All of the candidates, that is, except Barack Obama. He was in California, and his schedule was not busy, but Politico reported, “Obama refused because a.) he thinks it is too early to debate and b.) he has the guts to say no to a powerful labor union.”

Commenter Taylor Marsh (a.k.a. Michelle Marshall) wrote on Huffington Post., “If anyone’s keeping score this early, this one beats a verbal gaffe or any blogger brouhaha by a mile, because it’s delivered by the candidate himself. Senator Obama, you just might have to kiss those Nevada union votes good-bye.”

Obama went on to lose the Nevada precinct caucuses—in which he was endorsed by the state’s largest labor union—but carried the state against John McCain in the November election.

The debate may have been one of the few Nevada events he was offered that he declined over the years. He campaigned in Elko and larger markets during the campaign and returned repeatedly to the state as president, including this past August for the Lake Tahoe Summit. If Obama skipped a debate during the campaign, it was one of the few times he neglected the Silver State. As president, he used the state as a forum particularly on two issues—immigration and renewable energy.

Some Nevada officials became bogged down in other issues, using up substantial amounts of outrage on two comments Obama made about fun-in-the-sun destinations. One dealt with taxpayer funds being used by companies bailed out by taxpayers. In 2009, the President told an audience in Elkhart, Indiana, “You can’t get corporate jets. You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman: “That’s outrageous. He owes us an apology. He owes us a retraction. What is a better place, I say, for them to come here? For them to change their mind and go someplace else and to cancel at the suggestion of the president of the United States, that is outrageous.”

The other Obama statement dealt with personal restraint in difficult times. “When times are tough, you tighten your belts,” he said at a high school in North Nashua, N.H. in 2010. “You don’t go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices.”

U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada: “Enough is enough! President Obama needs to stop picking on Las Vegas.”

Such comments would have passed with one day’s newsworthiness, but Berkley and others kept them alive and publicized them much more widely by taking umbrage. The London Economist observed that Obama’s critics had “very little faith in the general public’s ability to understand what Barack Obama says.”

President Obama spoke at Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility near Boulder City on March 21, 2012.


On more substantive economic issues, Obama poured federal resources into Nevada. On one occasion he stood in front of an array of solar panels near Boulder City that seemed to stretch for miles—an image that appears on this month’s High Country News as a symbol of Obama’s Western legacy, though it is also a demonstration of the limitations of solar, which eats up huge amounts of space.

The president’s Clean Power Plan is aimed at curbing climate change by limiting carbon dioxide production from power plants. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has joined other states in suing to stop it.

“Nevada stands as something of a green oasis for Obama’s clean-energy vision, with a rapidly growing solar industry, bipartisan political support for reduced carbon emissions and wide swaths of federally owned lands repurposed for massive renewable energy projects,” reported Bloomberg.

Renewable projects went to the Moapa tribe as well as other entities.

Obama’s emphasis on renewables melded nicely with that of Nevada’s senior senator, Harry Reid, who had succeeded in killing two proposed coal plants in Nevada and shutting down most of a third while promoting renewable projects. Reid also chastised mogul Warren Buffett, who owns NV Energy in Nevada, over Buffett’s determination to keep building traditional power plants and his efforts to torpedo net metering.

In 2015, Obama spoke in Nevada and took a shot at Buffett and NV Energy by comparing them to more progressive states like Oklahoma and Texas that were promoting solar. Customers “can tell [a] utility company that they want renewable energy and have solar on the roof by the weekend” in those states, he said. “That’s power. That’s the future. It’s an American energy revolution. Good utilities recognize this and are adapting business models to seize the opportunities of this emerging energy reality.”

Obama twice spoke at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on immigration issues, in 2013 and 2014. “For Democrats thinking about the 2016 races, there’s no better place to set an immigration speech than a high school with a two-thirds Hispanic population in a swing state,” Bloomberg Politics noted. Nevada has one of the fast-growing Latino populations, an influx that’s shifted the state’s politics towards Democrats in recent cycles.”

“I know that some issues will be harder to lift than others,” Obama said in the first appearance. “Some debates will be more contentious. That’s to be expected. But the reason I came here today is because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling, where a broad consensus is emerging, and where a call for action can now be heard coming from all across America.”

Obama’s presence at those high schools could have been a factor in the 48,000 petitions circulated by young Latinos and sent to Laxalt calling on him to drop his immigration lawsuit against the president. The president’s cultivation of Latinos at a time when Republicans could not seem to resist the temptation to exploit the issue drove that group of voters into the Democratic camp.

Obama carried Nevada in both of his presidential campaigns.

Nevadans opposed the Iraq war by a wide margin, and Obama’s 2008 opponent, John McCain, had successfully proposed a 20,000-troop escalation the previous year.

The state was badly battered even before the autumn 2008 meltdown. Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, one of the 10 highest job loss rates, and may have started losing population for the first time in the memory of any living Nevadan. Slightly more than a fourth of Nevadans approved of George W. Bush’s performance in office, and though McCain did a fair job of distancing himself in the minds of Nevadans from Bush, the Wall Street meltdown and bailouts in the weeks before the election ended any chance the Arizonan had in Nevada.

Only 970,019 of 1,652,846 eligible Nevadans—or 58.6 percent—turned out to vote, but their 55 to 43 percent conclusion hardly called for a recount. Obama easily won reelection against Mitt Romney four years later, 52 to 46 percent.