Edwards caters his speech to Culinary workers’ tastes

Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards paid homage to Nevada’s most influential labor union Saturday, touting his labor bona fides and saying the state’s workers set an example for the rest of the country.

While polls might show Iraq as the No. 1 campaign issue, Edwards spent only one sentence on the war and catered his speech to the Culinary union audience.

He received standing ovations when he talked about making it easier to unionize and putting pro-labor members on the National Labor Relations Board.

He urged the union to "stand strong" in its current negotiations with casinos because workers in the rest of the country are watching.

"I’ve been with them," he said. "I’ve been organizing with them, I’ve walked picket lines with them. And they say, ‘Look at what our brothers and sisters in Las Vegas have done. Look at what a union town can do for working men and women.’"

Edwards is just the latest presidential hopeful to court the 60,000-member Culinary Local 226, expected to be key in Nevada’s early caucus.

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama met with the union last week, leading D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the union, to say: "I don’t think the Culinary union has had as many presidential candidates in its lifetime as we have this week."

Earlier in the campaign, Edwards was pegged by pundits as the candidate with the strongest labor credentials. And while he leads polls in Iowa, he has lagged behind Clinton and Obama in creating a statewide presence in Nevada.

This was Edwards’ first date with the organization many consider to be the prom queen of the caucus.

Clinton and Obama, as well as Gov. Bill Richardson, have already made two visits to the Culinary union.

"Of course we have noticed," said Michele Tirado, a food and beverage server at the Luxor, about the number of stops candidates have made with the union. "Of course, we’ll also notice if (Edwards) visits us again."

Taylor dismissed the perception that any candidate had an advantage at this point. And he, for one, is not counting the number of times each candidate visits.

"We recognize it’s a long campaign, not a sprint," he said.

By now, it’s a routine dance between the candidates and the Culinary union.

The campaigns are looking to the union’s organization and perceived ability to deliver a bloc of voters.

The Culinary union is in contract negotiations with Strip hotels, and looking for the candidates’ star power to draw attention to their issues.

At Saturday’s rally, Edwards walked to the front of a room filled with 250 union members at their headquarters on Commerce Street. Some of the workers wore their casino uniforms and name tags.

Edwards had on what passes for a presidential hopeful’s blue-collar outfit: crisp blue jeans, shirt with the top button undone, sports coat.

When asked by an audience member about the immigration plan being considered by Congress, Edwards said there needs to be a "much clearer, much straighter path to citizenship." He also said the bill needs to better address keeping families together.

But, he said, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t support the bill, calling it a "baby step" toward a better immigration policy.

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