The Clinton machine

The conventional wisdom still says a lot can happen in the next 80 days to change the outcome of Nevada’s Jan. 19 Democratic presidential caucus.

For starters, three key labor groups have yet to weigh in and none of the top three candidates has begun to advertise on television, leaving Sen. Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls just that — a lead in the polls.

It’s also impossible to tell who exactly will be attending the early caucus. So Sen. Barack Obama’s strength in bringing new voters to the fold could, in fact, shake things up.

But if you believe, as I do, that Democratic activists and a few inveterate voters are going to really show up in force at the caucus, the race has already been won.

Clinton showed Sunday why she’s ahead nationally and in Nevada. It certainly helped that she was in town and holding two public events. But perhaps the two biggest stops on her itinerary that have gone unreported are what makes her campaign almost unstoppable.

After waking between 2,000-thread-count sheets at the Four Seasons, Clinton attended services at Victory Missionary Baptist Church in West Las Vegas. Dr. Robert Fowler, the pastor and a member of her steering committee, welcomed her to the fold.

The black churches of West Las Vegas are still in many ways the opening to black voters, a majority of whom have come to expect these election cycle visits as a requirement for their support.

Obama events continue to draw a more diverse and younger crowd than events staged by the other Democratic candidates. But Clinton certainly won’t be ceding the black vote in Nevada. And if Sunday’s reception at Victory Baptist was any indication, she hasn’t much worry on that front.

After that stop, Clinton met with the local Service Employees International Union, which is poised to make an endorsement from a short list of the top three candidates. She certainly hasn’t lost any ground to former Sen. John Edwards there, and she may put the dagger into his campaign by nabbing the SEIU and its powerful get-out-the-vote activists from neighboring California.

Clinton’s campaign doesn’t appear to need that muscle. It is everywhere.

Those attending the Clark County Democratic Party’s Central Committee meeting Sunday could not escape the signature, dark-blue Clinton signs. Volunteers waved them on street corners a full six blocks from the meeting at the Clark County Government Center. From Bonneville Ave., you had to crane to catch the occasional Edwards or Bill Richardson sign at the entrance to the parking lot. And once in that lot, every parking space was under a Clinton sign.

The Obama campaign had a table but didn’t have much of a presence.

Similarly, if you head out to Democratic clubs and organizations, you are as likely to hear a pitch for Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich as you are for Obama. Clinton, Edwards, Richardson and even Sen. Joe Biden staff these meetings as if their campaign lives depended on it.

The Clinton folks, with their swagger and numbers, drown out almost all else during the central committee meeting. She trotted out her local bona fides: Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid and state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus. And then, for good measure, in response to one of many softball questions, she brought the standing-room-only crowd to its feet.

“It took a Clinton to clean up the mess after the first Bush, and it’s going to take a Clinton to clean up the mess after this one,” she said.

For all the talk of change, the biggest change most Democrats want is to win the White House. These voters weren’t, by and large, thinking of Clinton’s support for the Iraq war. They were preparing to jump onto a bandwagon with almost as much momentum as the one backing the Colorado Rockies.

At this point, it’s hard to see what the big equalizer will be.

For all the staff and talk, Obama’s organization is decidedly stealth. And while Edwards is still the labor candidate, it’s not a given he’s labor’s candidate this time.

The Culinary union won’t offer an endorsement before next month’s big CNN debate at UNLV. That Nov. 15 event and the Clark County Jefferson-Jackson Dinner to follow will single-handedly put the Nevada caucus into the national media spotlight. A Culinary endorsement timed to those activities would provide some bounce, particularly if it went to Obama or Edwards.

Edwards’ Nevada strategy appears to boil down to winning Iowa.

Wednesday night, the Obama campaign unveiled African-Americans for Obama, highlighted by boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. I’m sure the Obama campaign vetted Mayweather’s tale of the tape beyond his 38-0 record, to include his misdemeanor battery conviction.

Clinton, on the other hand, goes right into the black community, attending a church with 10,000 members who might respect their pastor’s endorsement.

The dynamics could still change, but not if Clinton has anything to say about it.

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at

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