Obama Preps For 1st Debate With Romney In Nevada

President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney are busy cramming for their first debate. The face-off Wednesday night in Denver could be their best opportunity to sway undecided voters. The two men are squeezing in a bit of campaigning between practice sessions. Romney holds a campaign rally in Denver Monday, while Obama rallied with supporters in Las Vegas Sunday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today marks the start of the final full month of the presidential campaign. It is the month of the presidential debates and a month in which Mitt Romney will be looking for a shift of fortune. Most national polls remain relatively close, but the electoral map, a look at individual states, shows Romney with a bigger disadvantage. And a Washington Post survey contends Romney trails President Obama by 11 points among likely voters in swing states. A number of states do remain up for grabs. They include Colorado, which Romney visits today; and also the state of Nevada, which President Obama visited last night.

NPR's Scott Horsley has our report this morning, from Las Vegas.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: This is a critical week in the Nevada political calendar. Would-be voters have until Saturday to register for the November election. Maggie Mora has been canvassing neighborhoods, signing people up.

MAGGIE MORA: I'm going out there seven days a week, six hours, door to door, 108 degrees. But you know what? I believe everybody needs to learn how to vote out there.

HORSLEY: The election may be five weeks away but early voting has already begun in Iowa, and it starts tomorrow in Ohio. Nevada residents can cast their ballots beginning October 20th. As a full Moon rose over Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas last night, President Obama urged thousands of supporters to do just that.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe in you. And I ask you to keep on believing in me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

OBAMA: I'm asking for your vote.

HORSLEY: Of all the battleground states, Nevada is one of the most hotly-contested, despite a strong union presence and a fast-growing Latino population, both of which tend to help the Democrats. Mr. Obama won easily here four years ago. But many Nevadans have grown dissatisfied with his leadership.

This state has the nation's highest unemployment rate, above 12 percent. And its housing market was hit particularly hard. Some of the sand-colored subdivisions and strip malls that sprouted here during the housing bubble look as if they're ready to sink back into the desert. Little wonder then, that a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Mr. Obama with a narrow two-point lead in the state. Last night, he acknowledged the economy still has a long way to go.

OBAMA: We're not where we need to be yet. We've got a lot more work to do here in Nevada and all across the country, to make the middle class secure again, to give ladders of opportunity to folks fighting to get into the middle-class. But the question is, whose plan is better for you?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yours, Obama. Obama, Obama, Obama...

HORSLEY: The president argues that Mitt Romney's economic plan - built around tax cuts and deregulation - is a warmed-over version of George W. Bush's policies. He urged his Las Vegas supporters not to bet on it.

OBAMA: We don't need to double-down on the same trickle-down policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama was introduced last night, by Chasstiry Vasquez, a daughter of Mexican immigrants who's now studying politics at UNLV. Vasquez took Romney to task for his comments, secretly taped at a Florida fundraiser earlier this year, that 47 percent of Americans don't pay income tax and won't take responsibility for their own lives.

CHASSTIRY VASQUEZ: Mitt Romney just doesn't get it. We work hard and we're responsible, and no one is looking for a handout. We just want a president who will fight for all of us.

(APPLAUSE)

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama is holed up much of today and tomorrow at a resort just outside Las Vegas, preparing for Wednesday's debate. But he's likely to make at least one casual visit to the surrounding area, to keep his face on the TV news and in the local paper during this important week.

Volunteer canvasser Maggie Mora says every little bit helps to get his message across.

MORA: I know that he really wants to try to help the middle-class. And we're all middle-class peoples. And I know it's not going to be easy and it's going to be up and down. But you know what? At least he's trying.

HORSLEY: Still, Nevada is likely to remain a hard-fought battleground. Florida Senator Marco Rubio will be headlining a pro-Romney rally in Las Vegas this afternoon.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Las Vegas.

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