LAS VEGAS >> Democratic presidential candidates descended on Nevada today in an attempt to build relationships with Latino voters and win the coveted endorsement of the powerful casino workers’ Culinary Union.
Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, both running as Midwestern moderates who’ve warned against liberal plans to move the U.S. to a government-run health insurance system, pitched themselves this morning to Culinary Union workers, who prize their robust health plans.
Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator, said the “Medicare for All” proposals like those put out by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “might sound really good on a bumper sticker” but would cause millions of Americans to lose their current health insurance, including the plans the casino workers bargained hard for.
“All of that work, I don’t want it to go down the drain,” Klobuchar said during her appearance at the workers’ union hall just off the Las Vegas Strip.
Buttigieg, who took the stage after Klobuchar left, made a similar point as he pushed his plan to offer government-run Medicare insurance to those who want it.
“I believe that if it’s the best answer for everybody, well, then everybody will choose it anyway,” said the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. “I trust you to make the right decisions.”
Visits from Klobuchar, Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden came a little more than a month before early caucus voting starts in Nevada, the third state to weigh in on the primary race.
Biden has maintained a top spot in Nevada polls. In the most recent poll of the state, released Thursday by Fox News, he has a slight lead over Bernie Sanders, followed by Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer, with Buttigieg trailing slightly. Klobuchar, who has only recently ramped up her campaign in Nevada, has been polling in low single digits.
Biden is scheduled to hold a town hall-style meeting at a high school in north Las Vegas with Latino and immigrant advocacy group Mi Familia Vota.
Nevada, considered the first state to test a candidate’s appeal before a diverse population, is a minority-majority state that’s about 29% Latino. Hispanic voters are a key constituency for Democrats in the state, along with labor unions.
While a number of unions are big players in Nevada Democratic politics, none reigns supreme like the Culinary Union. The 60,000-member strong group is majority female, majority Latino and has won worker protections and comprehensive health plans from the biggest industry in the state.
The union has a substantial voter registration program and when it decides to endorse in a political race, the group is often decisive, deploying an organizing army to campaign on behalf of a candidate.
Biden, Warren and Sanders all made their pitch to the union in December. While Warren sidestepped discussion of her “Medicare for All” plan to move the country away from private insurance, Sanders took on the issue directly and was heckled by some in the audience.
But all three of those candidates, who are much better known, received more enthusiastic receptions at their earlier visits than Klobuchar and Buttigeg did today.
Klobuchar told jokes and touted her family’s long union membership as she warmed up the crowd. Buttigieg drew whoops and claps as he broke into Spanish several times during his speech.