At times the speech seemed to meander from subject to subject, lightly touching on everything from high gas prices to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
But the president gained traction with the 400 audience members when he addressed his plan to raise taxes on the richest 2 percent of Americans and end subsidies for the oil and gas industry as a way to generate new revenues and reduce federal deficits.
“We also have to end the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans,” Obama said in prepared statements. “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy sources, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”
The louder the applause grew, the more Obama leaned into the microphone, raised his voice and gestured in his signature way, a reminder that the president is often at his best when in campaign mode.
And in many ways the town hall-style rally was very much a kickoff to the 2012 campaign.
Earlier this month, Obama formally announced his intent to seek re-election and on Thursday he attended fundraisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles before and after his brief stop in Reno.
After tearing through his speech, Obama fielded questions from attendees for more than 30 minutes.
In a memorable exchange, Will Adler, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, asked Obama how the rhetoric about taxes could be changed.
The state’s higher education system is facing more than $160 million in proposed cuts over the next fiscal biennium, and Adler wondered aloud why tax increases were not up for discussion in order to limit these reductions.
“Tax has become the most evil word on the face of the earth,” he said, part in jest and partly serious.
“I recognize that a state like Nevada has to make some tough choices,” Obama responded, but added that lawmakers should not be short sighted. “I don’t think there is a more important priority than education.”
Reaction to the president’s visit received expectedly warm reviews from many attendees, while a small group of protesters stood outside waving signs and chanting slogans of disapproval.
Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung, a Democrat, got a chance to shake the president’s hand and offer her support for the 2012 campaign.
Jung said she supports Obama because “I don’t think he’s an ideologue.”
She said she welcomed the president’s support for investing in clean energy and shared his view that reducing the deficit and cutting spending cannot be done on the backs of the most vulnerable while at the same time giving tax breaks to the wealthiest of Americans.
Jung said she will knock on doors and canvass neighborhoods, “whatever it takes,” to get Obama re-elected.
But not everyone in attendance cheered Obama so enthusiastically.
Mike Bosma, a local CPA, business radio show host and self-described conservative, said some of the successes Obama proclaimed about the health care reform law that passed last year were “a bit not on the level,” including details about credits for small businesses.
Bosma also said that while he was glad to hear the president say the tax code needs to be simplified, “the thing he missed is in order to get the economy going again, they need to reduce and simplify” the legislative code that is so burdensome to business.
ElectraTherm is a client of Bosma’s, and so despite his disagreement with some the things Obama said, having the president speak Thursday was “a huge win for the company and for Reno.”