From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Who says there's no such thing as two Americas?
Obama exchanged the gray skies, evergreens, small rural towns
and homogenous demographics of Iowa and New Hampshire for the bright
sun, palm trees, vibrant culture and diverse population of the
Southwest Friday, promising the residents of Nevada that over the
course of the next eight days he would answer any and every question
about his candidacy.
Obama began his afternoon with a rally with the Culinary Workers Union,
the largest and most powerful labor organization in the state, whose
endorsement may help him clinch the vote on the Las Vegas Strip, the
site of the nine largest caucuses in the state on Saturday.
Salsa music and hip-hop played instead of Garth Brooks and Van Halen,
and the crowd modeled the American population, mixed with Whites,
Blacks, Latinos and some Asians. Obama played to his crowd, exchanging
his "Yes we can!" chant for the Spanish version.
"Si se puede! Si se puede!" he shouted with the crowd.
"It was the call of the unions who organized and … who are still fighting Tropicana to do the right thing," Obama said of the chant that had first been used by Cesar Chavez to rally the union movement. It makes one wonder if it wasn't coincidence that his stump speech changed to incorporate the "Yes we can!" right before he headed out West.
If Obama's aim in Nevada is to win over the working class Democrats that he lost to Senator Clinton in New Hampshire, then his stump speech shot straight for that bull's eye. He stressed the economy above all other issues, both in his speech to the Culinary Workers and later in the evening at a rally at Del Sol High School.
Telling the audience that he had "walked in their shoes," he focused on the subprime mortgage crisis, his support for unions, his and his wife's struggle with student loan debt and how he was raised by a single mother to try to show that his call for economic relief for the middle class was motivated through shared experience.
"When the folks were out at the Congress Hotel in Illinois, I was there in the heat, and I was there in the cold. I was walking the picket lines, because I knew what you were doing… I don't come from a lot of money, and I don't come from a lot of privilege!" he shouted.
In talking about being a community organizer he joked that he had had "holes in his shoes and holes in his car."
And later at Del Sol High School he said, "The economy should be bubble up, not trickle down."
Obama took questions for a full half hour at the town hall at Del Sol, his first lengthy Q&A session since before Christmas when he was campaigning in Iowa. He told the crowd that he had a plane to catch in an hour, but not to worry if he didn't get to their questions because he had a whole week to answer them before the caucus.
Janet Napolitano, governor of Arizona, who just endorsed Obama yesterday, introduced him, and told the crowd that the West, which was young and fast moving, understood the need for change better than anyone.
Questions ranged from immigration to Yucca Mountain and the importance of military experience in the presidency. Obama praised McCain to a young woman who said her father only wanted a president with military service, and he joked with another voter who said he was better than Bush.
"That's kind of a low bar," he said. "Ya know, I mean, you telling me I'm better than Bush. That, that ain't sayin' nothing…. I'm teasing ya, I'm teasing."
He told the crowd that his reason for running for president was because he had "bet" when he began to run that people from all walks of life, religious backgrounds and ethnicities would want to come together.
"That was my bet," he said, "and since I'm in Las Vegas, I just want you to know that I hit the jackpot. My bet is paying off because America is ready for change. They are responding all across this nation."
And as a state, Nevada, appears able to mirror that diverse call for unity and provide all the candidates a chance to test their appeal before an electorate that represents a cross-section of the American public.
However, Obama was in Vegas. An irony felt when he answered a question on the environment and told the crowd, "We are a wasteful culture. We use too much energy. We need to conserve."
Conserve? Restraint? In Sin City? Fat chance.