Obama’s swing through Nevada and four other states last year serves as a powerful reminder of the limitations of the annual State of the Union speech, which Obama will deliver again on Tuesday night, and of the presidency itself.
Obama is likely to promote the same goals for the country that he did in last year’s address, a reflection of the fact that many of the major items on his agenda remain outstanding.
More broadly, Obama is still working to strengthen the economy in the profound ways he describes, facing both short-term challenges — such as an unemployment rate stuck near 8 percent — and long-term challenges, like slow-growing wages and an anxious middle class.
Nevada, one of the states worst hit by the recession, exemplifies the progress made under Obama, as well as the tremendous ground still to be covered. In interviews around Las Vegas — at a park, an outdoor mall, a college campus and a Home Depot parking lot — Obama’s supporters and opponents alike said he has not yet achieved what he set out to do: build a durably strong economy.
Some blamed him, while others accused Congress of standing in his way.
“He’s doing the best he can,” said Tone Pondaharn, a 34-year-old electrical engineering major at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Congress isn’t making it easy.”
But Jeanne Berry, who owns a pool cleaning business in the area, said Obama comes at the issue all wrong. “As long as we have this president who doesn’t understand business, we will continue to spiral downward,” she said. “My question is: ‘Who aspires to be only middle class?’ People aspire to be great.”
Obama enjoyed a strong victory in Nevada in November, edging out GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by seven percentage points and turning a recently red state decidedly blue. He won in part because of the power of Las Vegas’s labor unions, offsetting the conservative-leaning rural areas.
Over the past year, Nevada’s economy has begun to recover, with an unemployment rate that fell from 13 percent to 10.2 percent. Yet that rate is still the highest in the nation, tied with Rhode Island.
Nevada, which suffered a terrible housing crash, has seen home prices jump significantly in the past year. Yet it is still the most battered state in the nation, with more than one in two homeowners underwater — owing more on their properties than they are worth.
Deborah Shalev, a stay-at-home mom whose husband is a podiatrist, said she had hoped for more progress when Obama was first elected. But her family hasn’t recovered from the housing bust.