WASHINGTON - President Bush makes his first presidential trip to Nevada today, visiting a state he won narrowly in 2000 but that Democrats are claiming as a 2004 battleground where they'll press accusations the president broke a campaign promise on where to place a nuclear waste dump.
Bush was set to deliver a morning speech on Medicare at Spring Valley Hospital in Las Vegas, then speak at a lunchtime fund-raiser at The Venetian hotel-casino, which is expected to raise more than $1 million for his re-election campaign.
It's the president's first trip to Nevada since the 2000 campaign, when he made a fund-raising swing through Lake Tahoe. That was about a month after issuing a statement declaring "sound science" should determine where the nation's nuclear waste should be stored for the next 10,000 years.
When Bush approved Yucca Mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the nation's nuclear dumpsite last year, Democrats said he was breaking his promise and giving them an issue for 2004.
"Bush may have signed away his chances to win this state with his signature on the Yucca Mountain bill," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic strategist. "I think with a swish of a pen he turned a red state that had tinges of pink into a top battleground state and prime pickup opportunity for the Democrats."
Several prominent state Democrats criticized Bush over the issue at a Las Vegas news conference Monday., and protesters were expected to greet him at The Venetian on today.
"Our memories are not so short that we can't recall that four years ago, this candidate promised us one thing and delivered us the exact opposite," former Gov. Bob Miller said as Democrats gathered on the eve of the president's visit.
"I encourage all Nevadans ... to remember what you got. And what you got was a nuclear dump," he said.
Republicans downplayed Yucca Mountain as a campaign issue, saying Nevada residents understand that Congress - not just Bush - approved the dump, and that it's just one issue among many in a state in which Republicans edge Democrats 41 percent to 40 percent among registered voters.
"I may not agree with the president on this single issue, but I agree with him on every other issue," said Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.
Gibbons credited Bush with strengthening the military and the economy, sending more money to veterans and working to deliver prescription drug coverage under Medicare.