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Hugh Jackson: Why Obama’s ahead in Nevada

As of the start of this week’s Democratic convention, the presidential race in Nevada had been polled nine times over the last five months. Mitt Romney trailed in all of them. In five of the nine, Barack Obama’s support has hit or topped the magic 50 percent.

A Republican convention bounce could give Romney a rare lead in Nevada, but it would likely be just a blip. Nate Silver, the media’s premier tracker of polling and election data, who writes the Five Thirty Eight blog at the New York Times, calculates there is a nearly 80 percent chance that Obama will win Nevada.

Things could change. Nary a day goes by when Karl Rove doesn’t boast that Sheldon Adelson, Steve Wynn, the Koch Brothers and the rest of Nevada’s and America’s poor, put-upon billionaires are going to spend Obama into oblivion on TV in battleground states like ours. Most of those ads will be lies — that Obama has cut Medicare benefits (he hasn’t; he’s expanded them) or that Obama has raised taxes (Obama has cut more taxes than Bush did in his first term), or the racially charged assertion, soundly and universally thrashed by fact-checkers, that Obama wants to eliminate the welfare work requirement.

Romney’s supporters, taking a cue perhaps from their pathological liar of a nominee, have demonstrated time and again that they are unashamed when caught lying. When Rove predicts that Obama will be wildly outspent in Nevada and other swing states over the next two months, it is not only a menacing threat, but perhaps the only time in a disgraced, disgusting and catastrophe-laden career that Rove is publicly telling the truth.

Their enormous monetary advantage notwithstanding, the billionaires and their minions still face an uphill climb in Nevada.

First, the key message they hope to send with all that money is that Obama can’t be president anymore because he hasn’t made the economy all better.

If that fact alone were to decide the election, Obama would not lead Romney in every poll of Nevada voters taken over the last five months. If any state knows that Obama hasn’t made the economy all better, it’s Nevada. But in no other state do people comprehend the depth and intensity of the Bush-era economic collapse. Nevadans, even voting Nevadans, are by and large politically apathetic. Like so many other Americans, they’ve checked out of federal policy debates, and their default attitude toward politics and politicians is, not to put too fine a point on it, screw that noise. Of course they wish Obama had cast a spell to make all the icky go away. But blistered by the realism of the Bush economic disaster, Nevadans know that Obama has no magic wand. And they know the Republicans don’t either.

That raises more imposing obstacles for Romney and his billionaire backers. It’s not enough to say Obama didn’t fix the mess Bush left him. Romney & Co. must convince Nevada voters that Republicans could have done better over the last four years, and will do better in the next four.

Romney’s answer on that score was celebrated at his party’s convention last week. Nutshell: Reduce Sheldon Adelson’s tax rate to zero and then everyone will own a business, and anyone who doesn’t own a business is an inferior life form and probably not a real American. (The socially and morally acceptable exception: Stay-at-home moms who are married, of course, to business owners).

People whose versions of the American dream do not include owning a business — educators, scientists, firemen, cops — can be Americans, too, within the Romney worldview. Maybe even good Americans. But they can’t be truly great Americans unless they open a frozen yogurt shop or venture capital firm.

And as for people who tend to view their jobs primarily as something for which they should earn a living wage in exchange for a fair day’s work, and who derive their identify and sense of self from something other than their profession … that’s not the American dream as Romney sees it. Must be European or something.

Romney doesn’t have an economic plan. He’s got a speech for a chamber of commerce breakfast.

And the most frequently deployed campaign argument behind Romney’s economic “vision” is the assertion that business owners “built that” — a puffy soundbite forged from a deliberate distortion of an innocent point Obama made about America’s age-old partnership between the public and private sectors.

If Obama’s efforts to remedy the economic catastrophe he, and we, inherited was so inept, incompetent and wrong, as Republicans contend, you’d think they would have countless specific proposals to address fundamental problems — housing, consumer debt, student loan debt, financial industry manipulation, eroding wages and disappearing benefits — that continue to thwart a more robust recovery.

Instead, the centerpiece of Romney’s economic message is an Obama quote taken wildly out of context. That is, it’s a lie (not surprisingly, given Romney), and one more suited to the culture wars than an economic debate.

If the Republicans had a winning or even plausible economic message, Romney’s campaign would focus on it relentlessly. Instead, Romney’s campaign has been relentlessly focused on telling lies about Medicare, welfare and “you didn’t build that.”

For months, everyone has been saying that the election will be all about the economy. Everyone is right. And that’s why in the state hit hardest by the economic collapse, Obama is ahead.

HUGH JACKSON blogs at The Las Vegas Gleaner ( and contributes to KSNV Channel 3.