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Clinton, Obama Fight for Vegas Votes

Clinton, with Chelsea in tow, going door-to-door in Las Vegas. (AP).

By Paul Kane
LAS VEGAS -- Barack Obama's presidential campaign is taking a quick endorsement victory lap here today, parachuting in for a rally with this city's most powerful labor union two days after it endorsed the Illinios senator.

Obama's rally with the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 -- whose 60,000 members man many of the casinos in this gambling mecca -- comes just eight days before the next big event in his quest for the Democratic nomination, Nevada's caucuses Jan. 19.

But Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton sent signals last night that she will not cede this state to Obama without some fight.

While Obama's trip to Las Vegas is meant to show his organizational strength, Clinton made empathetic appeals here at a pair of events in Hispanic neighborhoods. Not only was Clinton seeking Hispanic votes, she walked through streets littered with Culinary Union households, appealing to voters who should be backing Obama based on the endorsement.

She was escorted through the streets by the dynamic state Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen, 27, who became the youngest person elected to the legislature two years ago. Kihuen helped interpret for Clinton and ushered her into several homes, and he made a point of noting anyone who was a union member. "I'll work hard for you," she told two union members outside their ranch house.

Ahead of her economy speech in Los Angeles today, Clinton focused much of her pitch at both Las Vegas events on the kitchen-table, bread-and-butter issues. She trumpeted her plan for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and a five-year freeze in interest rates on adjustable rate mortgages, a key issue in Las Vegas -- home to the highest foreclosure rate in the nation's subprime lending crisis.

Clinton also continued a sales pitch in a style more similar to that of her husband, former president Bill Clinton. Her walk-through created a stir in the working-class neighborhood, as Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, gave out hugs and kisses to the families as if they were old friends. Children with cellphone cameras breached the Secret Service lines to snap pictures and take video. One small boy and a girl argued over who got the better, more genuine hug from Clinton.

"She hugged me," the boy told the girl.

"She hugged me, too," she countered.

"She just felt sorry for you," he replied.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal's front page this morning carried a four-column photo of Clinton kissing the cheek of a Latino woman, Kihuen at her side, with five-column headline: "Clinton pitch hits home".

This is the side of Clinton that some aides and analysts credit with sealing her surprise victory in New Hampshire, particularly after her emotional moment the day before the primary. After spending 20 minutes inside the household of a culinary worker on medical leave, Clinton told reporters that she could not say whether revealing this side of her personality was key to Tuesday's victory. "That's for others to say," she said.

But, Clinton said, it is a key moment in campaigns "any time you create that connection and that empathy" with voters.

"It's important because you want people to know why you do it," she said of her campaign.

By Washington Post editors  |  January 11, 2008; 12:48 PM ET
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