President Barack Obama turned an economic appearance in Nevada into an extended campaign plug for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose re-election fight could have a big impact on the balance of power in Washington and the fate of Obama's own proposals.
Obama wrapped his arms around Reid at the start of the event on Friday and embraced Reid's work throughout. The president rarely missed a chance — on the economic stimulus plan, on health care, on the effort to regulate big banks — to put himself and Reid in the same sentence.
The political goal was to shift the emphasis from the unpopularity of some of Reid's votes to, in Obama's view, the courage it took to take expensive steps to save the economy. Obama needs to protect every vote he can in the Senate if his own agenda is to succeed.
"I can personally attest that Harry Reid is one of the toughest people I know," Obama told a friendly crowd packed into a high school gym here. "Sometimes he takes his licks. But he gets back up. Harry Reid has never stopped fighting."
Reid is up for election this year and is seen as one of nation's most vulnerable incumbents. He introduced Obama at the event and then sat behind him, basking in each applause line.
Obama's appearance at the town hall, held outside Las Vegas, served many missions.
• He announced a $1.5 billion boost in public money to help people stay in their homes, targeting the states, including Nevada, hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. "Government alone can't solve this problem," Obama said. "But government can make a difference."
• He urged lawmakers not to squander a chance to overhaul the health care system even as he acknowledged that the effort has cost both him and Reid politically. He prodded people to pay attention to his bipartisan health summit on Thursday, hoping to rebuild public support.
• He tried to soothe hard feelings among Las Vegas leaders, who say that Obama has singled out Sin City as a symbol of irresponsible spending at a time of tough choices. When one questioner said he had just spent money in Vegas, Obama said: "We like to see that."
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