Candidates Look to Nevada for Signs of Future Success

By Shailagh Murray and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 19, 2008

In a preview of the battle looming on Feb. 5, the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) head into today's Nevada caucuses engaged in a fierce fight for Hispanic support, bombarding voters with Spanish-language advertisements and literature and arguing over which candidate is most committed to the concerns of Hispanics.

Obama and Clinton advisers are playing down expectations for Nevada, where Clinton has held a lead in polls for months and Obama has secured a potentially crucial endorsement from the Culinary Workers Union, whose members help run the sprawling enterprise of the Las Vegas Strip. Both campaigns see Nevada as a test run of their strategies for winning over Hispanics, and say the results on Saturday will offer clues to building Hispanic support in the Feb. 5 mega-primary prizes of California, New York and New Jersey. Although Hispanics usually turn out in low numbers relative to their percentage of the population in Nevada, they make up about one-quarter of the electorate and could play a substantial role in deciding who wins.

The group Unite Here, the parent organization of the culinary workers' union that is backing Obama, has run Spanish-language radio and television ads in Nevada praising Obama and disparaging Clinton. A radio attack ad from the group charged Clinton with "unforgivable" and "shameless" behavior after her supporters sued to prevent culinary workers from caucusing at their work sites. The casino caucuses are going forward, but the fight to sway Hispanics continued yesterday, as the same group launched a separate television advertisement praising Obama as the candidate who "believes that the way to change America is by bringing all people together."

"Together we can elect a president who will unite people," the script of the advertisement read. "Barack Obama for president. Together we can win. Como Siempre."

The Clinton campaign pushed back vigorously against both ads, deploying some of its most prominent Hispanic backers, including campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and human rights advocate Dolores Huerta. It charged Obama with hypocrisy for not demanding the union pull the ads after he made similar demands in Iowa when former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) was benefiting from ads run by outside groups. "Senator Obama shouldn't be saying one thing about independent groups in Iowa and another in Nevada," said Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman.

In a moment sure to draw comparisons to a pre-New Hampshire show of emotion that some observers argued gave her a boost in that contest, Clinton yesterday addressed the scandal caused by then-President Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, which was first revealed 10 years ago Monday.

In an interview aired yesterday on "The Tyra Banks Show," Clinton said she "really had to dig down deep and think hard about what was right for me, what was right for my family" after the affair was revealed.

"I never doubted Bill's love for me, ever, and I never doubted my faith and my commitment to our daughter and our extended family."

Clinton told Banks that women ask her "all the time" about how she dealt with the infidelity. "I say you have to be true to yourself, no one story is the same as any other story," she said.

Obama's union support in Nevada -- the Culinary Workers Union represents 60,000 workers on the Las Vegas Strip, and he also has the backing of the Nevada chapter of the Service Employees International Union -- may be his biggest asset. Both unions are considered organizing powerhouses, but they have little experience with caucus turnout. In 2004, when the Nevada contest fell later on the nominating calendar, fewer than 10,000 people showed up.

Clinton, by contrast, has strong support within the state Democratic Party establishment. Her Nevada campaign chairman is Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and chairman of the Clark County Commission, one of the most powerful posts in the state.

"Senator Clinton has some real structural advantages here," said Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. "She started off with a strong lead. They've run a very, very aggressive campaign. We recognize that there are significant barriers. I think it's going to be a very competitive race, but I think she has an edge going in."

In a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll released yesterday, Clinton held a nine-point lead over Obama in Nevada, with strong support from women, older voters and Hispanics, who favored her by almost 2 to 1. Obama was the heavy favorite among African American voters, but blacks constitute about 10 percent of likely caucusgoers, compared with about 15 percent for Hispanics.

"The Clintons have a lot of support in the Latino community," Axelrod said. "I think there is a loyalty to Bill Clinton in particular, and we'll see if it translates."

At the very least, the culinary workers' endorsement should keep Obama competitive, and the bond that it created could open doors to relationships with Hispanic leaders in such crucial Feb. 5 states as Arizona, California and Colorado. In the battle for California, Obama won the support yesterday of Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, who vowed to canvass her Los Angeles-area district on his behalf.

"We're just not as familiar" to Hispanic voters, Axelrod said. "We need to build a familiarity and it's a challenge, because we don't have much time."

The Democratic race will move to South Carolina next, where Republicans vote today and Democrats hold their primary next Saturday.

Republicans are also caucusing in Nevada today but have made it much less of a focus -- and have centered their debate around far different issues. Former Michigan governor Mitt Romney is working the state most aggressively, and campaigned there yesterday.

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