President Barack Obama, accompanied by Val and Paul Keller, talks about home mortgages, Friday, May 11, 2012, outside the Kellers home in Reno, Nev. Obama met with the Kellers who recently refinanced their home loan under a federally backed program that the President wants to expand to all homeowners who are paying their mortgages on time.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
RENO, Nev. -- President Barack Obama returned his attention to the economy after a day spent raising millions of dollars for his campaign and riding a media wave on his newly declared support for same-sex marriage.
Obama was to promote housing policies to help homeowners avoid foreclosure in a quick visit Friday to struggling Nevada, which ranks second in the nation in foreclosed homes and has the highest unemployment in the country.
Obama won Nevada in his 2008 presidential election. But the economy presents new challenges as well as an opportunity for his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.
Four years ago, Nevada was economically reeling from the recession, and Obama and union allies seized on the anxiety to mobilize voters and win the state. Today, the Nevada is still in dire straits and the economy belongs to the president.
Obama arrived in Reno Friday afternoon looking to shore up his support and draw attention to housing proposals that he says Congress must pass to help homeowners struggling with their mortgages.
The Reno visit caps a two-day trip otherwise devoted to fundraising, including a gala event at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney on Thursday night that raised nearly $15 million.
Obama acknowledged the challenges that a slow recovery means for his re-election in his remarks at Clooney's sprawling canyon home.
"Part of the reason it's going to be harder," he said, "is because folks are still hurting out there."
In Reno, Obama was to play up earlier efforts to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages, an effort that the White House says has increased refinancing applications by 50 percent nationwide and by 237 percent in Nevada.
Obama will visit a working couple selected because they benefited from the eased rules.
Nevada's unemployment rate was 12 percent in March, the worst in the nation. As of last month, Nevada's foreclosure rate trailed only Arizona among states. And the Nevadans most affected by the state's poor economy are the very voters who rallied behind Obama four years ago.
The question with those voters is less whether they will vote against Obama, but whether they will vote at all.
"Whether or not he wins it again will depend on how enthusiastically labor works for him there, because they are such a critical part of getting out Hispanic vote, and the Hispanic turnout," said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. "The critical thing is enthusiasm."
Obama can also benefit from the political organization Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has built in the state, one that helped Reid fend off a tough challenge two years ago from tea party-backed Republican Sharon Angle.
For Romney, the state's struggles coupled with a small but cohesive Mormon population present a potential Election Day payoff. A Mormon, Romney benefited from the support of members of The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the state's Republican caucuses. Though only 7 percent of the state's population, Mormons participated heavily in the caucuses, and 90 percent went for Romney.
In Reno, Obama is going to push for mortgage refinancing legislation he has asked Congress to approve. To contrast with the president's plan, his campaign and his political advisers have pointed to Romney's past assertion that the solution to the foreclosure crisis is to let the housing market hit bottom.
Earlier this year, Obama proposed lower lending rates for millions of borrowers who have not been able to get out from under burdensome mortgages. Obama would pay for the estimated $5 billion to $10 billion cost with a fee on large banks. But that plan faces an uphill fight in Congress. The White House says it would not insist on the bank fees as a means to finance the plan.
Obama's push in Nevada includes heavily courting Hispanic voters. This election cycle, Romney has staked out a more conservative policy toward immigration, and his campaign has yet to mount an organized effort to attract Hispanic voters.
Obama, on the other hand, has been airing a new Spanish-language ad in Colorado, Florida and Nevada. It features testimonials from three Hispanic supporters, including one of his campaign field organizers in Nevada.
David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, noted that Democrats are also demonstrating the benefits of Obama's health care law to Latinos. But he said ultimately the candidates' stances on immigration will be the leading issue in determining the vote.
"Most of the data indicates that immigration either begins or ends the conversation," he said in an email message.