Friday, Jan. 11, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Just beneath the smiles and the hugs and the flash of cameras, Sen. Hillary Clinton played in-your-face politics in a visit to Las Vegas on Thursday.
A day after the 60,000-member Culinary Union endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for president, Clinton walked a northeast Las Vegas neighborhood heavy with Culinary workers and won the support of several.
Her campaign’s message: The endorsement means nothing and Culinary members should follow their conscience and not the order of union Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor. It was a political kick in the shins to Obama and the union, all delivered with the New York senator’s trademark wide grin.
Asked about this shrewd maneuver, a Clinton aide merely laughed and claimed ignorance.
Culinary political director Pilar Weiss downplayed the significance of the wayward union members: “What would you do if a presidential candidate came to your door? If you had a presidential candidate and an elected official and the national press corps at your door, would you say you supported the candidate? Of course.”
Weiss continued: “We just made our endorsement yesterday, we’ve got plenty of time in the grand scheme of the caucus, and we think in the end our members will act like a union.”
It was another sign the campaign is reaching new levels of intensity here. With the Culinary endorsement, Obama grabbed a significant advantage, but Clinton showed Thursday she’s intent on winning here Jan. 19 to maintain her momentum following victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
Obama arrives today for a rally at Del Sol High School. The doors open at 5 p.m. He will return Sunday and Monday. Before that event, he’ll solidify his support with the Culinary by accepting its endorsement at a union hall rally.
In Nevada, Obama is outspending Clinton $390,965 to $206,320 on TV ads.
But Thursday was a day of free media for Clinton, who was followed by a horde of cameras and notebook-bearing reporters as she walked with Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen through a Hispanic neighborhood in his district.
Clinton was making an appeal to Hispanic voters, who make up about 40 percent of Culinary membership. Obama and Clinton are fighting hard for Hispanic voters. Both have invested heavily in the effort, airing Spanish-language radio ads and hiring dozens of bilingual organizers between them.
Clinton’s walk through the neighborhood wasn’t exactly a spontaneous stroll. The homes Clinton visited were the same ones that Kihuen canvassed with a Sun reporter last month
Many of the neighborhood residents either weren’t citizens or weren’t registered.
Clinton must have been a bit baffled, for instance, when Kihuen took her to visit Esperanza Solorio, who’s not a citizen. Kihuen explained her importance: She is a community activist who can move voters.
Marhayra Bermudez, a Culinary member who works in the kitchen at Bally’s, said she’s ignoring the Obama endorsement and backing Clinton. Many of her co-workers are doing the same, she said.
Clinton stopped at the home of Gilberto and Elizabeth Santana and their two young children. Elizabeth Santana is a housekeeper at Harrah’s who cleans 16 rooms during every eight-hour shift. She’s supporting the family because her husband was injured on the job and can’t work.
Gilberto Santana asked Clinton about immigration and said he hoped more of his friends and family could work in the country legally.
Clinton explained her proposal to secure the border but provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, provided they pay a fine and back taxes, and try to learn English.
The event gave Clinton some pitch-perfect TV moments. Sitting on the Santana couch, looking concerned as Gilberto Santana explained the family’s financial difficulties, Clinton said, “If we don’t take care of our children, we don’t care of our future.” She was once on the board of directors for the Children’s Defense Fund.
And, Clinton managed to get some residents to sign caucus pledge cards. A caucus, which requires participants to show up at their precinct meeting at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 19, requires the campaigns to produce committed supporters. The pledge cards allow the campaigns to count supporters, and people who sign them are 80 percent more likely to attend the caucus than those who don’t, according to data amassed during previous Iowa caucuses.
Clinton’s theme for the day, which she adroitly returned to repeatedly, was the economy and the foreclosure crisis that is causing significant hardship across the country, but especially in Las Vegas.
At a roundtable discussion at Lindo Michoacan, a popular Mexican restaurant, Clinton listened to the stories of local residents either hit by the crisis or trying to do something about it, and she laid out her agenda on the issue:
Clinton is calling for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and a five-year mortgage rate freeze, both dependent on the voluntary cooperation of lenders. In the past, she has said if the financial industry opposed her measures, she would consider legislation to make the steps mandatory including giving legal protection to lenders that fear being sued by investors for renegotiating mortgages.
Clinton supports a fund, estimated at $5 billion, to help existing state foreclosure programs.
Her chief opponents, Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, have proposed similar policies to help those caught up in the crisis.
Clinton is in Los Angeles this morning making a speech on the economy and the need for an economic stimulus package. The message likely will resonate,because the national unemployment rate has reached 5 percent, and some economists think states such as Nevada are already in a recession. The economy appears to have gained ground and even equaled the war in Iraq as the issue most motivating Democratic voters.