A Big Union Test Out West

Barack Obama wins some key endorsements in Nevada.

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Nevada's Culinary Workers Union embraced Barack Obama last week.

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The day after losing the New Hampshire primary, Barack Obama got some good news. He won the endorsement of the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union of Nevada, a strong force in state Democratic politics that could give him an edge in Nevada's nominating caucuses January 19.

Nevada has been generally lost in the campaign coverage because it isn't a state with lots of votes and it isn't one of the first few to nominate delegates. This has miffed Nevada officials who wanted their state to play a pivotal role in 2008. That doesn't look likely as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida crowd out the Silver State.

Occasionally, the resentment shows through. Noting that whites dominate the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, culinary union Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor told a news conference in Las Vegas last week: "We're not just Wonder Bread here. We got pumpernickel. We got whole wheat. We got rye. We're excited about that. That's America. That's why Senator Obama excites us and excites the country."

Obama has a tough road ahead, since Hillary Clinton is so well known and has been considered the front-runner in Nevada for a long time. Yet the culinary union, which represents hotel, restaurant, and laundry workers in the state's casino industry, could pack the caucuses with Obama supporters.

No tradition. Still, many of its members are recent immigrants who haven't registered to vote. Obama could have the same problem with the Nevada chapter of the Service Employees International Union, which also endorsed him last week. Clinton and Obama have run TV ads for three weeks in Nevada extolling their virtues, and they have made several personal appearances.

The problem is that Nevada has no tradition of serving as a presidential kingmaker. Just as important, Nevada chose January 19 for its caucuses, the same date as South Carolina's GOP primary, the first in the South and traditionally an important stop on the nominating trail. So the top-tier Republican candidates have been campaigning intensely in the Palmetto State and elsewhere, not in Nevada.

The stakes may be small, but in a tight contest, even a small advantage could make all the difference.