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Obama Rallies Casino Workers

Barack Obama
Barack Obama visits employees at the Mirage Casino Hotel before the start of the Nevada caucus in Las Vegas. (AP)

By Shailagh Murray
LAS VEGAS -- Sen. Barack Obama toured the "back of the house" at the Mirage casino this morning to rally members of the Culinary Workers Union, the organizing powerhouse he is counting on to push him to victory in the Nevada caucuses today.

The first stop was the uniform control room, with its vast racks of bellhop jackets and kitchen whites and a vending machine that sells pantyhose for $4.50. "I hope everybody remembers to caucus," Obama said to the beaming employees as they gathered around him, aiming their cellphone cameras. In the hallway, he stopped along a row of pay phones, posing for more pictures, clasping more hands. In the vast casino kitchen, Obama learned the most popular soups at the Mirage: cream of mushroom and cream of broccoli. Slot supervisor Eujene Rangel positioned himself along a walkway in the cafeteria to greet Obama as he walked by. Will he caucus today? "I don't know, it's on my lunch break," Rangel said. "I'll think about it.

At the deli counter, Obama embraced a group of women wearing official cafeteria caps, emblazoned with the name "Strip Joint." Keeping close watch on the action was Rachel Salerno, shop steward for the Culinary, who works in the hotel's banquet department. Pumping her fists, she called out to employees as she passed them, "Obama all the way! Don't forget, noon today!"

Salerno's prediction? "He's going to win. I can feel it in my bones."

As he hurried along, reporters questioned Obama about rumors of possible voter intimidation tactics. "I want to make sure that everybody who has the right to participate in this caucus is participating. The Democratic Party has been about getting people involved in the process, not excluding them. Hopefully, that's a tradition that we will maintain when we're here in Nevada."

He wasn't quite as confident about the outcome as Salerno.

"I think it'll be a close race. But I tell you what, I would not want to have anybody other than these two standing next to me going into a caucus," Obama continued, gesturing to the two culinary officials walking alongside him. "These are folks you want to take into a fight."

Asked whether the outcome today would influence voters in South Carolina, where Democrats will vote one week from today, Obama responded, "All these things add up."

He also addressed a series of increasingly bitter remarks about him by former President Clinton.

"He's been getting a little fired up, hasn't he? I guess we must be doing okay. He was always really nice to me when I was 20 points down." Does he sense an intentional effort by the Clintons and their allies to deflate Obama's support with black voters? "It's hard to say what his intentions are," Obama said. "But I will say that he seems to be making a habit of mischaracterizing what I say." He noted a recent comment he made about President Ronald Reagan, which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards have portrayed as a de facto endorsement of Reagan's conservative ideology.

Obama told the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board Monday that "Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it," Obama said. "I think it's fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10 to 15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom."

Obama waved off the backlash. "It was a factual statement that Ronald Reagan created a working majority for his agenda," said Obama. "Not my agenda, but his." He continued, "We're getting accustomed to this. But hopefully the American people, because of excellent reporting by you, are able to sort out what's true and what's not."

After his Mirage visit, Obama was scheduled to head to the airport and fly to Chicago. "I'm going to try to see my kids before I go down to South Carolina," he explained. But first he made his football picks. "I like Green Bay and the Pats," Obama said. "Brett Favre is 38 years old. He's almost as old as me. I have to root for him.You gotta root for the old guy." Politics being the exception. "Yeah, right," he laughed.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 19, 2008; 3:08 PM ET
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