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How Hutchison almost got Latino PAC’s endorsement

Never let it be said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — and his top staffers — ignore my blog, SlashPolitics.

That’s apparently how they learned Friday afternoon that the Latin Chamber of Commerce’s Latino BizPAC was planning to do an unusual thing: Endorse both Democrat Lucy Flores and Republican Mark Hutchison for lieutenant governor.

A list of endorsements I obtained Friday afternoon clearly shows both Hutchison and Flores labeled as endorsees in the lieutenant governor’s race, which, because of the Democratic Party’s failure to nominate a real candidate for governor, is the state’s top race this year.

I published that information on SlashPolitics at 4:01 p.m. Friday, along with a picture of Hutchison. “Why is this man smiling?” the caption read. “Because he got endorsed by the Latino BizPAC!”

Not for long, as it turns out.

Immediately after the blog was published, the phone lines apparently started burning up. According to “Ralston Reports” host and blogger Jon Ralston, “Team Reid, including I’m told the senator himself, worked the phones, and the Latin Chamber folks showed they have spines of jelly.” The Review-Journal’s Laura Myers added, “But at the last minute, after Reid lobbied the Hispanic business leaders by phone, the Latino BizPAC late Friday decided to officially endorse only Flores, giving her a boost.”

That’s right: Less than two hours later, the chairman of the Latin Chamber’s board, Javier Trujillo, was on the phone, telling me that, in fact, Hutchison was not getting the Latino BizPAC endorsement. Instead, Flores alone would have the group’s backing.

Trujillo mentioned nothing of Reid or calls received by the chamber. Instead, he suggested I’d been given “preliminary” information that was not finalized. The board, he said, was discussing the endorsement process up until that very afternoon, he said.

Of course, that explanation admits one salient fact: At the very least, Hutchison was under consideration for the group’s joint backing, along with Flores. And why not? He had assiduously cultivated the Latino BizPAC’s endorsement. He voted for driver authorization cards, a resolution calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and even Flores’ bill to allow the victims of domestic abuse to break their leases to escape abusive relationships.

Preliminarily, Hutchison was looking good to at least some of the people at the Latin Chamber — but not enough of them to withstand the pressure that was apparently brought to bear by Reid and his people.

Now, hardball politics is what Reid does, so nobody should be surprised at the events of Friday afternoon. And it’s totally understandable that Reid would want to control the outcome of the endorsement, to deny Hutchison the ability to say he had support in the Hispanic community. A joint endorsement for a white male Republican in a race against a Democratic Latina would have been too powerful a campaign message for Reid to allow to go unanswered, especially for a candidate who has his strong personal backing. (Vice President Joe Biden last week said Reid talked about Flores so much in Washington, “I thought she was his daughter.”)

I asked Reid’s spokeswoman directly if the senator or his political team had intervened to stop the dual endorsement. “No comment,” was the reply I finally got after several rounds of emails, something I’ve hardly ever heard from Reid’s office in 20 years of covering politics.

But while Reid’s actions were entirely understandable, albeit heavy handed, the Latino BizPAC’s actions were not. The group has the right to endorse or not endorse anyone it wishes. But to reverse course at the 11th hour simply because Reid and his people cajoled them suggests a level of unsophistication (at best) that calls into question the value of an endorsement in the first place.

The Hispanic community is a growing political force in Nevada. Reid himself credited his 2010 victory over Sharron Angle to Hispanic support. A joint endorsement of both Hutchison and Flores showed the community could not be taken for granted by Democrats, and that a Republican with the right voting record had a chance to win Hispanic support.

But all that changed in the space of just two short hours on Friday afternoon. More’s the pity.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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