Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama opened a big campaign push here on Friday, rallying Democrats in an effort to recover from a narrow loss in New Hampshire.
“Since I’m in Las Vegas, I’m going to say: I’m the jackpot. My bet is paying off,” Obama told thousands of supporters in a high school gymnasium decorated with a homemade banner draped with Christmas lights and reading “Nevada for Change.”
The senator from Illinois plans to spend most of the next week in this state, where Jan. 19 caucuses are next on the national primary schedule. They are seen as an important indicator of Obama’s ability to appeal to Western voters, especially Latinos.
Obama staffers said they hoped that momentum built here would carry on to subsequent primaries -- South Carolina on Jan. 26 and the potentially decisive Super Tuesday balloting in large states, including California, on Feb. 5.
“We’re going to show America that what happens in Vegas, it’s not going to stay in Vegas anymore,” Obama earlier told members of the Culinary Workers Local 226, whose endorsement this week has boosted his organizing ability, especially in the city.
Obama picked up a key Western endorsement Friday from Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who introduced the senator at Del Sol High School, saying her state had much in common with Nevada.
“We understand in the West, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, the value of change,” Napolitano said. “And we need change.”
In a town-hall-style meeting at the school, Obama fielded questions on immigration, healthcare and divesting from Sudan. He also told the capacity crowd of about 2,000 that he opposed the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility.
Thousands more supporters lined up outside the school, unable to fit inside. Obama took a few minutes before the event to cheer them.
“If you could not get in today, I don’t want you to think that you are not precious to this campaign,” Obama said, clutching a hastily commandeered microphone and standing on a small box. “We need you caucusing for us. We need you standing up for us. We’re in a defining moment of our history. Our nation is at war, our planet is at peril. This is our chance.”
Earlier, in a stuffy union hall with ceiling fans whirring futilely overhead, Obama rallied union members by translating his new rallying cry into Spanish.
“We are ready to start the next chapter in American history, starting with those three words: Si, se puede,” Obama said.
“Si, se puede” -- which means “Yes, we can” -- was the slogan of the huge pro-immigration rallies that mobilized Latinos in Los Angeles and around the country two years ago.
“Si, se puede,” the workers shouted in response.