Henderson, NV -- Just three days before the "tie-breaker" Nevada caucuses this coming Saturday, Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama stormed through the Silver State today and chided rival Hillary Clinton's campaign, accusing her of distorting his position on social security and health care.
"You may be getting some fliers, you may be getting some phone calls from the Hillary Clinton camp saying she will solve the social security crisis through fiscal responsibility while Barack Obama wants a trillion dollar tax hike," the Illinois senator told a jammed crowd Wednesday morning at the convention center in this booming Las Vegas suburb. Obama then explained he would bolster social security by removing the current cap on the very highest of earners and not be a general tax raise as implied by Clinton. "Maybe she thinks the top 3% of earners are average American taxpayers, but I don't."
Obama also complained that his supporters were getting calls and fliers from Clinton supporters accusing his health care plan of leaving 15 million Americans uninsured. Obama brushed aside the charge and then proceeded to criticize President Clinton and Hillary Clinton for attempting health care reform "the wrong way" last decade. "They went behind closed doors to do it and allowed lobbyists the and health care industry to shape the plan and eventually kill it."
Obama went out of his way to take his jabs at Clinton today, delivering them after he finished a standard stump speech and after answering a handful of questions from the audience of a thousand or so that began to gather in front of the convention center doors at 7 am -- two hours before the town hall began. "I want to just say a few more things before I go," Obama said as he launched into his swipes at Clinton.
While Obama was speaking, Clinton was scheduled to hold a dueling event at the nearby University of Nevada Las Vegas focused on opposition to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear dump site, a hot button issue for Silver State politics.
After Obama's win in the Iowa caucus and Clinton's dramatic win in the New Hampshire primary, both campaigns have poured enormous staff and financial resources into what now becomes the Democratic rubber match in Nevada. Third-running John Edwards has also set out on an aggressive campaign schedule, continuing to play a wild card role in the tight early voting primaries and caucuses. Most opinion surveys show all three candidates in a very close race to win Saturday's Nevada caucuses.
"This is a dream come true for us," said an impartial Democratic Party official observing the Obama rally. "We had hoped that moving up Nevada's caucus calendar would give us a voice in the election and now we have it."
After a weekend barrage of explosive charges and counter-charges between the Obama and Clinton campaigns over issues of race and both candidates' positions on the war in Iraq, the tone markedly softened during last night's televised Democratic debate in Las Vegas, termed little more than a "love-in" by many observers.
But a fierce and divisive ground war among the campaigns is being fought around the clock as the campaigns hustle to get their supporters to show up and stand for their respective campaigns this coming Saturday caucuses scheduled for 11:30 am. "We've got a couple of hundred people fanning out every morning and going work site to work site," says Pilar Weiss, political director of the 60,000 strong Culinary Workers Union Local 226 which recently endorsed Obama. Representing mostly hotel and casino service employees, the Culinary is considered to be a political powerhouse.
But the Clinton campaign has mobilized the bulk of Nevada's Democratic establishment in its corner. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has declared himself formally neutral, his son Rory Reid, a powerful Clark County Commissioner, has been marshaling the party machine to support Clinton. "We've never seen the political temperature so high here," says a prominent Las Vegas liberal activist, "And we've never been so divided. We're really getting torn between the competing campaigns."
Part of that division has spilled over into the courts. A teachers union supporting Hillary Clinton has sued to close down nine caucus sites housed inside Vegas Strip casinos, arguing the sites favor Culinary workers employed there. Obama supporters have responded by saying the pro-Clinton lawsuit is nothing but a bald-faced attempt at voter suppression.
Obama directly took on the issue this weekend when he told a rally of Culinary workers that the "insiders" who oppose him are maneuvering to "change the rules" to keep them from voting.
"Ever since I got the support of Local 226, the lawyers started to get involved. The rules were OK as long as you did what they wanted you to do. But as soon as you said, 'I'm going to support the outsider, I'm going to support the new guy,' all of a sudden they decided they want to change the rules," he told the meeting of Culinary Workers on Sunday.
A local judge will issue a ruling on Thursday as to whether or not the caucusing inside Strip hotels can go ahead.
Meanwhile, Senator Clinton was almost two hours late for her appearance at UNLV .She did not apologize for being late, leaving much of the audience startled.
Appearing in a large circular ballroom at the Tam Alumni Center Clinton addressed a group of mostly elderly l50 locals. Clinton sat with her back to the audience and faced the press, while she engaged in an academic discussion on Yucca Mountain with eight academics and community activists.
A weary-looking Clinton introduced each of the 8 presenters who were seated in a rectangle around her. They each made a short presentation and she commented on their presentations. She said she shared their distrust of big government, specifically the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And the New York Senator said the next president needs to reestablish scientific research and not wage a general war on science as the Bush administration has done.The 60 minute session was less a campaign rally and more of an academic seminar. Many of the seniors in the audience nodded off during the presentation.
But Clinton was on top of her game and stayed alert and deeply engaged. After the session ended, Clinton sat down with NBC Nightly news anchor, Brian Williams, for an interview to be broadcast on tonight's evening news.
Both Obama and Clinton have large closing rallies scheduled for Friday here in the Las Vegas area. John Edwards will also be rallying his ground troops here tomorrow morning.