HENDERSON - Nevada Republicans painted President Barack Obama as a foe to capitalism who cannot rejuvenate the wounded economy at a daylong rally Saturday designed to organize conservative voters in a state that backed Obama in 2008.
Sen. Dean Heller told participants in the annual Conservative Leadership Conference in Henderson that 2012 offered "an opportunity to elect the next Ronald Reagan."
"Finally, someone who understands that you can't be pro-jobs and anti-business," he told the cheering crowd of more than 100 conservatives.
But, in a nod to the uncertain GOP presidential field, Heller said he could not name which candidate might fill that role.
Even without a chosen rival to defeat Obama, Nevada Republicans at the conference were quick to rattle off a list of Obama's alleged missteps and link Nevada's record unemployment to Washington.
Heller called Obama a tax advocate who has turned health care over to trial lawyers and put unions in charge of job creation. Heller was recently appointed to the Senate from the U.S. House to fill a vacancy. He is running against Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley in Nevada's 2012 Senate race.
"These are the troops that get involved," Heller told reporters after his speech. "You want to keep them happy."
Republican congressional candidate Mark Amodei said Obama is responsible for Nevada's highest in the nation unemployment rate. Amodei, who is running against Democratic Nevada Treasurer Kate Marshall to replace Heller in the House, urged conservatives to support his campaign as a sign of Republican unity.
"This special election on Sept. 13 is phenomenally important for setting the stage for everyone else on the Republican ticket,"
Heller said he would work with Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to raise money for GOP candidates in 2012 and organize voters. Sandoval did not attend the conference.
The Nevada Democratic Party had someone pose as Heller at the conference Saturday and carry a sign that read, "Death Tax Dean." Democrats have sought to portray Heller as a flip-flopper who supported taxes as a state assemblyman two decades ago, but has since embraced a no-tax stance.
Later in the day, Republican presidential hopeful Gary Johnson told conservative sympathizers the Obama's economic policies have rattled businesses, resulting in long-term unemployment across the United States and in Nevada.
"Republicans are the only party capable of fixing that and that's why I am involved in this contest," said Johnson, who cited his record as the former governor of New Mexico. "Business went to bed every single night knowing that the business climate wasn't going to get any worse because Johnson was going to veto any tomfoolery."
Johnson was one of more than a dozen Republican speakers who slammed Obama's economic recovery efforts during the daylong Conservative Leadership Conference in Henderson. The event was initially pitched as an opportunity to identify Obama's rival, but a Republican presidential debate was postponed indefinitely after Mitt Romney announced he would not attend the conference.
Pizza magnate Herman Cain was the only other presidential hopeful who ultimately made it to the event. He also focused on Obama and the economy, reflecting a message conservatives are expected to embrace through the 2012 elections.
"Today, the American Dream is under attack," Cain said. "But our job is to take it back."
Obama won Nevada in 2008, when the state thrived through bustling casinos and unchecked construction. These days, the state leads the nation in unemployment and foreclosures. Republican candidates from across the ballot are eagerly framing Obama as a foe to capitalism who cannot rejuvenate the wounded economy.
Nevada is poised to host the nation's third presidential nomination contest in February.