Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses today by about a 5 percent margin over Barack Obama. (Almost 51 percent went for Clinton and just over 45 percent for Obama with 90 percent of the precincts reporting). John Edwards came in a distant third with less than 4 percent of the vote.
Billed as the “first test in the West,” the Nevada date was moved up this year in order to bring early attention to western issues. It’s also been called the “Latino Iowa” and the first sample of the Mexican American and Latino vote.
The big story was the Democratic turnout, which topped 100,000, smashing all predictions, according to Reno Gazette Journal blogger Anjeanette Damon. The Republican turnout also topped expectations. Mitt Romney, the only GOP candidate to campaign in Nevada, won.
For all you Midwesterners, Southerners and Easterners: Western issues include water, Native American rights, land use, environment and the role of the federal government.
In Nevada, whether Yucca Mountain will be the receptacle for the nation’s nuclear waste is a specific issue for the state. As far as I know, all the Democratic candidates are against dumping the toxins there.
But some critics contend that outside of Yucca Mountain, the “western issues” were not addressed.
Then there are two issues in Nevada that are national issues as well: the housing crisis and immigration. Immigration — and especially the anti-immigrant crackdown and rhetoric that has been coming out of the Republicans and right wing — has roiled a large section of the Mexican American and Latino vote away from the GOP. Latinos make up a sizeable percentage of the Nevada population and voters.
Clinton has consistently polled double-digits ahead of Obama among Latino voters. She has her husband’s presidency, name recognition and numerous well-known Latino figures behind her, among them United Farm Worker co-founder Dolores Huerta. As a law student and child advocate, Clinton did a lot of work on issues affecting children of farmworkers. She has a national profile that has translated to strong showing in the polls against her main rival, Obama, who doesn’t have such a strong national reputation, or the Democratic Party infrastructure ties that Clinton has.
Women, especially those 55 and over, favor Clinton, while it seems that younger women have gravitated to the Obama campaign.
Obama went into Nevada with a deficit and gave Clinton a good run for her money. He garnered the very important endorsements of the culinary workers union, the state’s largest with 60,000 members and a large Latino membership, and the state SEIU, another organizing powerhouse. He has also begun to pick up endorsements from Latino leaders, such as the personal endorsement by Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Obama’s and Clinton’s stands on immigration are similar: they are for legalization, family reunification and “border security” — something that has become a way to try to blunt (or appease?) the right-wing anti-immigrant forces as well as to acknowledge the crime that does happen at the border by human and drug traffickers from many countries, including the U.S.
Obama’s campaign has a lot of catching up to do in the West, especially if he wants to take the delegate-rich state of California. Its primary, along with 21 other states, is Feb. 5 — known as Super Tuesday.
With Las Vegas being the fastest-growing union city in the country, and the overall explosion of growth in the region, many people bought homes in the area, often with subprime mortgages. Now Nevada is an epicenter of foreclosures, with the accompanying decline in housing prices.
One frequent visitor to North Las Vegas told me, “You see lots of for-sale signs. It’s really eerie.”
The Nevada campaign saw a lot of political wrangling and even some dirty tricks. The state teachers association, which backed Clinton, sued over caucuses being held in casinos because they said it gave casino workers, whose union backed Obama, an “unfair advantage.” The teachers lost their suit. Clinton alleged the union was “strong arming” its members to go with Obama.
Clinton also went after Obama’s position on raising the income cap on Social Security, calling it a “tax hike.” Now only the first $90,000 of income gets taxed for Social Security. Progressives have long advocated lifting that cap since wealthier people don’t pay their fair share. The increased money flowing into Social Security could raise benefits for all, and do other positive things.
Obama was forced to fire back at the Clinton campaign for distorting his stances. This has put his campaign on the defensive, and most people get turned off by such political wrangling.
Unidentified persons also made calls attacking Obama and using his middle name, Hussein, over and over again.
Interestingly enough, Obama won several northern Nevada counties, but did not win Clark County where Las Vegas is. Yet Obama won the “battle” at the Caesar’s Palace caucus by a delegate. Apparently it was evenly split with some casino workers going with Clinton despite their union’s endorsement of Obama, and steelworkers from a nearby work site also caucusing for Clinton. (The steelworkers union has endorsed Edwards, so I don’t know if this is an indication that they are now throwing their support to Clinton.)
But in the end, after much reported shouting between the red t-shirted Obama supporters and the white t-shirted Clinton supporters, Obama won that casino caucus. But Clinton won the strip.
And now it’s on to South Carolina.
Teresa Albano (talbano @ pww.org) is editor of People’s Weekly World.