Culinary picks Obama

D. Taylor answered with a straight face better suited for the green felt at the World Series of Poker.

“We’re used to being underdogs,” the secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Local 226 deadpanned as his union endorsed Barack Obama on Wednesday.

Taylor cited critics who argued the union couldn’t win certain contract concessions or who didn’t think the union would prevail during strikes at the Frontier (six years, four months and 10 days) or Binion’s (nine months).

The Culinary may relish its newfound role working against the local Democratic establishment, which favors Hillary Clinton, but for all its thunderous “Si, se puedes,” once the contracts are renewed, Local 226 is often just a political yes man when it comes to its friends on the Strip.

Taylor said the local’s endorsement of Obama would put it against the “Democratic power establishment.” That means the County Commission, Rep. Shelley Berkley, former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dina Titus, etc.

Taylor said that while pushing their candidate to the top in the Jan. 19 caucus will be a challenge, it isn’t because Obama is an underdog. If anything, running against the establishment in 2008 is proving to be a very good thing indeed on both sides of the aisle (white women in New Hampshire notwithstanding).

“The last time I looked it was the people who voted,” Taylor said to big cheers.

The only louder cheer came when he was asked how many of his members are eligible to vote, registered or Democrats. “A lot. A lot. And you’ll see them on the 19th,” he said, ducking the question.

The Culinary had already won the most attention from the Democratic candidates all year. But it let the flirting continue until Obama’s poll numbers rose and he won Iowa. Sure, he’s one of them, but he still had to prove he could win.

After last week’s Iowa victory, local Culinary members were already signaling Obama would get the endorsement. But they waited a little longer just for good measure, and then got a bit nervous in the 11th hour when Clinton won New Hampshire.

Taylor didn’t like that question, either. Likening the endorsement process to a trip to Baskin-Robbins, Taylor said the Culinary just took awhile to settle on a flavor.

The bottom line is that Culinary couldn’t go with a potential loser. John Edwards, who embodies the union’s talking points, couldn’t get the endorsement because he has neither the money nor the organization here to pull off a victory and salvage the Culinary’s reputation as a kingmaker.

But Obama’s campaign says its Nevada organization is much like its successful one in Iowa. With just 10 days to organize, Culinary may be able to hide behind whatever Obama has set up statewide. And it’s a formidable shield (11 offices and 160 homes hosting primary watching parties statewide). How is that being an underdog?

The only establishment Culinary really worries about is the one called gaming.

In 2006, Culinary endorsed Titus for governor with enough time to make a difference, but did little to turn out support for the Democratic nominee, either because of her rocky relationship with gaming, or because it was distracted by Lynette Boggs’ County Commission race, which was seen as payback against her for getting in bed with a non-union casino company.

In 1998, Culinary put its boots on the ground for Republican Kenny Guinn, the quintessential gaming establishment candidate.

Of course, the Culinary sounds formidable enough (60,000 members), and it will benefit from at-large caucus sites chosen to allow its shift workers on the Strip a chance to participate. (I’m sure the at-large precinct captains could look the other way on registration as long as there are bodies filling the locations.)

Democratic National Committeeman Steven Horsford, who is supporting Obama and who works with Culinary in his day job, said the local has been organizing “well in advance” of Wednesday’s endorsement. And we saw the caucus T-shirts, hats and pins on display down at the 226 hall.

“This race is so important, and labor’s voice matters so much,” Horsford said.

With Culinary and another late endorsement from the Service Employees International Union, Obama can clearly be called the labor candidate in Nevada. Still, Edwards has the carpenters and Clinton’s got the stagehands, sheet metal workers and county and municipal employee unions.

And there is that Democratic establishment. Berkley came out for Clinton on Wednesday, calling her the best candidate for both Nevada and the country and a lifelong “agent of change.”

She pledged party unity after the nomination is finalized, adding that she and the Culinary “breathe the same air.”

“I certainly wish we were on the same side,” Berkley said.

With so many voters choosing “anti-establishment” candidates these days, Berkley and the other Democratic brass may just have to get to the same side as the Culinary. Who knows? Clinton has nine days to distance herself from the establishment.

Taylor knows there will be time to buddy up again with the establishment, just as it did after the Guinn endorsement and just as it does after contracts are reached.

Obama could hardly be described as anything other than a front-runner here. And that, for the Culinary, is a win-win.

Contact Erin Neff at eneff@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2906.

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