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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Crossroads Ad Craps Out

Is President Barack Obama down on Vegas? A new ad, running in Nevada, from a pro-Romney group employs a shortened quote from Obama that makes it seem as if he was telling people not to visit and spend money in the tourism hub. Not exactly.

Making a point about belt-tightening in tough times, Obama told a crowd in New Hampshire in 2010, “You don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you’re trying to save for college.”

But that’s not what you hear in the ad from the pro-Romney PAC Crossroads GPS.

Here’s how the ad unfolds:

Narrator: After gambling your money on his failed stimulus, President Obama says …

Obama: Don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas.

Narrator: He doesn’t get it. In Nevada, tourism means jobs. Under Obama, nearly 62,000 fewer Nevada jobs. Our home values, gone. America’s worst recovery, and a new recession could mean more jobs lost. But as Nevada struggles, Obama says …

Obama: Don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas.

Nevada has certainly been hard hit by the recession. The figure of 62,000 jobs lost in Nevada since Obama took office is accurate, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though the trouble started before Obama’s term. In fact, Nevada lost nearly 93,000 jobs in the year prior to Obama taking office. Nevada also has the highest unemployment rate of any state in the country, 12 percent.

But it’s misleading to shorten Obama’s quote to make it seem as if he discouraged tourism to Las Vegas. Here’s a fuller transcript of Obama’s comments to high school students in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 2, 2010:

Obama, Feb. 2, 2010: Responsible families don’t do their budgets the way the federal government does. Right? When times are tough, you tighten your belts. You don’t go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices. It’s time your government did the same.

The comment drew sharp rebukes from a number of political leaders in Nevada, some of them Democrats. One of them, in fact, was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who released a statement saying that “the President needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn’t be spending their money.”

Obama responded to Reid with a letter saying his comment was misconstrued.

“I hope you know that during my Town Hall today, I wasn’t saying anything negative about Las Vegas,” Obama wrote. “I was making the simple point that families use vacation dollars, not college tuition money, to have fun. There is no place better to have fun than Vegas, one of our country’s great destinations. I have always enjoyed my visits, look forward to visiting in a few weeks, and hope folks will visit in record numbers this year.”

Obama also addressed the kerfuffle when he visited Nevada a couple of weeks later and spoke to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Obama, Feb. 19, 2010: Now, before I go any further, let me set the record straight: I love Vegas! There you go. Always have. Love Vegas. Enjoy myself every time I’ve gotten an opportunity to visit. In fact, just last night, I drew a flush on the river and cut the budget deficit in half. Some of you know I can play some poker.

Now, I did receive a little bit of heat, I know, from maybe some in this room, when I said that folks shouldn’t blow their college savings in Vegas. That doesn’t mean I don’t love Vegas. It wasn’t meant to be a shot. I think everybody here would agree that the only place where people should spend their college savings is in college. There’s no contradiction there.

The comment in 2010 was actually the second time Obama raised the ire of some Nevadans for making a reference to Las Vegas. In a February 2009 speech, Obama said, “You can’t take a trip to Las Vegas or down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime,” referring to bankers who were accused of whooping it up in Vegas after the government bank bailouts. Some resort executives said the comment drove away business. But then, as in 2010, Obama was not discouraging visits to Las Vegas.

Polls in Nevada show Obama holding a slight lead over Romney, but the race remains tight. According to Politico, Crossroads GPS is sinking $900,000 into airing an English version of the ad over 10 days in the Las Vegas and Reno markets, plus $474,000 on a Spanish-language version in hopes of cutting into Obama’s support among Nevada’s sizable Latino population.

— Robert Farley