President Barack Obama threw his star power behind the Democrats' embattled Senate leader, who finds himself in a tossup campaign against an ultraconservative tea party favorite in America's most-watched Senate race.
Republicans have made Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid their top target in the Nov. 2 election. The minority party needs to gain 10 seats to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats, and unseating the most powerful Senate Democrat would deal a major blow to Obama, who reminded supporters of Republican opposition to his agenda.
Reid is tied in the polls with relative unknown Republican Sharron Angle in a race that has attracted millions of dollars from across the nation.
"I know sometimes over the last two years as we've been grinding out change, doing battle ... dealing with obstruction, dealing with the 'no-you-can't' crowd, I know sometimes you might have gotten discouraged," Obama said at the nighttime rally for Reid on the third day of a four-day campaign swing. The rally's Democratic organizers estimated the crowd at 9,000.
"The work of bringing about actual change is so hard," Obama said. "I'm here to tell you Nevada don't let anybody tell you that what you've done didn't matter."
Obama was trying mightily to reknit the coalition that sent him to the White House with big outdoor rallies in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and fundraisers for Senate candidates. The president was reaching out to Latino voters, college students, women and other Democratic-leaning groups as he sought to boost the candidacies of key congressional allies whose success or failure on in the Nov. 2 election will help determine the fate of his own agenda.
Everywhere he went the president asked voters to keep on believing in the promise of change, even though he acknowledged that it's been slow to come and that the euphoria supporters felt when he won the presidency in 2008 has dissipated.
Obama's campaign stops were timed to energize the Democratic base in both California and Nevada where early voting is already under way.
His visit to the U.S. gambling capital was meant to give a boost to Reid, who hope to avoid the fate of former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle who lost by a narrow margin in South Dakota in 2004.
Like incumbent Democrats everywhere — and more than most — it's not only a Republican rival that Reid is combatting. It's the troubled economy, in the state with the nation's highest rates of unemployment (14.4 percent) and home foreclosures, where the recession has taken a big bite out of Nevada's main tourism industry.
Republican candidate Angle, campaigning Thursday in Las Vegas with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, urged Reid to "man up" and accept his share of blame for the state's economic woes.
Reid has responded to such attacks by saying Angle like other tea party-backed candidates is too extreme for Nevada voters. He has called her an ally of the special interests and advocate for jettisoning government agencies and privatizing programs for the elderly and veterans that millions of Nevadans rely on.
The Nevada Senate race is now a test of strength for the fledgling tea party movement, which advocates smaller government and lower taxes.
The 61-year-old Angle, a former state lawmaker — like tea party-backed candidates in other states — defeated a favorite of the state's Republican establishment in the primary election.
Her ultraconservative policies have hurt her in the general election campaign with some moderate Republicans and leaders of the state's gambling industry backing Reid. She has countered by casting Reid as a career politician who lives in a fashionable condominium in Washington and is out of touch with the state he has represented in Congress for decades.
Polls show that the 70-year-old Reid, who is seeking a fifth Senate term, remains very unpopular among Nevada voters, but the Senate race is among the tightest in the U.S. with both candidates polling just under 50 percent.
Reid has fiercely courted the Hispanic vote in the contest against Angle, who has run TV ads with images of dark-skinned men and a map of Mexico to highlight her support of strict immigration policies. Hispanics are a growing voting bloc in Nevada, where they make up roughly 25 percent of the population. More than 80 percent of the Silver State's Hispanics hail from Mexico.
The crowd in Las Vegas was a fraction of the audience that had flooded a sunny quad at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to hear Obama. USC officials estimated that 32,500 people were there and that 5,000 other people watched on television from an overflow area.
Obama campaigned in Los Angeles for Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who is in a tight race with former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, and Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor. The USC rally brought a dash of Hollywood celebrity as Jamie Foxx warmed up the crowd and Stevie Wonder performed for supporters at Boxer's earlier fundraiser with Obama.
As Obama campaigned on the West Coast, Democratic and Republican party leaders back in Washington privately scrutinized the latest polling data to determine where to spend their limited resources on TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts in the final 10 days of the campaign.
Democrats were increasingly focusing on the most competitive states and congressional districts in the hope that a superior turnout operation will help them win enough races to hang onto control of Congress, even if only by a slim margin.
Republicans were zeroing in on states where they've seen their leads shrink in recent days — like the Pennsylvania Senate contest — as voters started paying increasing attention ahead of Election Day.
Attention was focused heavily on the most competitive Senate races — California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington, Colorado and West Virginia along with Nevada — and roughly two dozen House races in a battlefield that's rapidly expanded to 75 or more seats in play. Republicans would need to win 40 seats to take the House.