When Hillary Clinton arrived at Caesars Palace near midnight one night this week after a day of campaigning in Chicago, she made a brief detour before heading to her hotel room.
“Hi, everybody. How are you?” Clinton asked as she entered a basement room where a handful of housekeepers working a late-night shift folded linens and towels. “I appreciate all the work you do. Whenever I come in, I appreciate it.”
Those housekeepers — members of Culinary Local 226, the state's largest union, which is predominantly Latino — are part of a crucial component in Clinton's effort to win Saturday's Nevada caucuses. Clinton has taken selfies and shaken hands with cooks, maids and cocktail waitresses inside the break rooms of nearly half a dozen hotels along the Strip this week in a last-minute push to boost turnout among Latino voters and to blunt the efforts by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to make inroads among minority Democrats.
The Latino vote will be decisive in the caucuses, said Andres Ramirez, a local Democratic strategist who is supporting Clinton, and that means turnout among members of the union.
“It could shape how this presidential primary is ultimately decided,” Ramirez said of the caucus.
The union itself is not endorsing a candidate in the primary after an ugly fight in 2008 when it backed then-Sen. Barack Obama. Clinton still managed to win the popular vote in the state, but Obama had an edge in the delegate total.
Last month, Culinary Union leaders scolded Sanders' campaign after accusing some of his staffers of impersonating members of the union in an effort to gain access to its members. Sanders campaign officials expressed regret over the incident.
This week, both Clinton and Sanders visited a Culinary Union picket line over healthcare costs for employees.
Healthcare plans are an issue of concern for many union members in Nevada. In interviews, Culinary Union leaders have expressed disdain for the so-called “Cadillac tax” in the Affordable Care Act, a 40% levy on certain generous employer-sponsored health coverage plans, which is set to take effect in 2020. Both candidates have said the provision should be repealed.
But Clinton has sought to cast doubt on Sanders' credibility with unions.
Speaking at an outdoor rally before Laborers' International Union members on Thursday night, she basked in the support she's received from nearly two dozen powerful national unions.
“It's because I've worked for them, because I've fought for them,” she said.
Clinton added, “I'm no Johnny- or Janie-come-lately,” when it comes to outreach and support of unions.
Sanders, who spent Friday far from Las Vegas, with rallies in Elko and Sparks, Nev., has benefited from the support of National Nurses United, which has held several rallies in support of his candidacy across Nevada this week.
And Culinary Union members such as Edwin Valles, a cook at Jerry’s Nugget Casino, said he’s supporting Sanders because of his tuition-free college plan.
“For a lot of kids, that would be a dream come true. Maybe I could then be able to go to school,” Valles, 24, said. “He’s caught my attention because he talks to the youth.”
Valles said Sanders is more representative of the middle class.
“That’s what I am, and that’s who he is appealing to,” said Valles, who will vote in his first caucus Saturday.
In Valles’ conversations with co-workers and friends, Clinton is not mentioned — perhaps evidence of a generational split as Sanders appeals to younger voters.
“She’s not known,” he said of Clinton. “At least the people I know don’t know her,” he said.
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