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Obama, seeming to offer an olive branch to Sin City, says there's 'nothing like a quick trip to Vegas'

May 27, 2009 |  1:40 pm

He came, he raised money, he made amends. Sort of.

President Obama, who arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday for a star-studded fundraiser for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, today touted the gambling mecca as a “beautiful city” and praised its sights (perhaps he meant the faux Egyptian pyramid?) and sounds (slot machines chanting “Wheel! Of! FORTUNE!”).

While promoting his economic recovery plan during a stop at Nellis Air Force Base, he had this to say:

"You know, it’s always a pleasure to get out of Washington a little bit. Washington is OK, but it’s nice taking some time to talk to Americans of every walk of life outside of the nation’s capital. And there’s nothing like a quick trip to Vegas in the middle of the week. [This got applause.] Like millions of other Americans, we come to this beautiful city for the sights and for the sounds -- and today we come for the sun."

Was this the endorsement tourism officials have been yearning for since Obama in February appeared to link Las Vegas to corporate excess? (The now-infamous comment, aimed at taxpayer-aided companies embarking on lavish retreats: “You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”) The tourist-reliant region has been stung by a series of convention cancellations, although it’s likely the recession was far more to blame than the offhand remark.

Still, political types couldn’t resist harrumphing over the perceived presidential slight. Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, who’s up for reelection next year, drew national press by announcing that he declined to exchange hellos with Obama during the president’s arrival.

Gubernatorial spokesman Daniel Burns said today’s presidential endorsement was more a weak hug than a full-on embrace of Sin City: “We would have hoped for more, but apparently that’s the best he could do. … It’s better than nothing, but it’s really close to nothing.”

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who has toyed with his own 2010 gubernatorial run, and regardless, cherishes the spotlight, could not immediately be reached for comment. Goodman, however, did greet Obama Tuesday – and has scheduled a press conference this afternoon to address the president’s remarks. Stay tuned.

-- Ashley Powers

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