Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008 | 2 a.m.
At A Glance: Tonight's Debate
Tonight’s Democratic debate begins at 6 at the Cashman Center Theatre, 850 North Las Vegas Blvd. The two-hour event will air live on MSNBC and will be rebroadcast with a Spanish-language translation on Telemundo at midnight. Both networks are owned by NBC.
The moderator is “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams. Joining him will be Tim Russert, host of NBC’s Sunday morning talk show “Meet the Press.” The format includes questions submitted by viewers.
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- Obama on the Democratic party
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- Obama on the Nevada caucus
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With just five days remaining before the presidential caucus, the leading Democratic candidates declared an uneasy truce Monday, at least on the issue of race, following the sharp exchanges of recent days.
Some supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton had made clumsy statements that appeared to play to stereotypes of black men in recent days and weeks, while supporters of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama had begun to accuse the Clinton campaign of stoking racial bitterness. For a party steeped in a history of the civil rights movement, the tension was a surprising development.
During a hastily arranged news conference Monday after an event in Reno, Obama said, “Over the last couple of days we’ve seen a tone on the Democratic side that is unfortunate. We share the same goals.”
He also implored his supporters to speak carefully. “If I hear my own supporters engaging in talk that I think is ungenerous or misleading or someway unfair, I will speak out forcefully against it. I hope the other campaigns take the same approach.”
Not long after, Clinton’s campaign issued a statement. “Over this past week, there has been a lot of discussion, much of which I know does not reflect what is in our hearts. And at this moment, I believe we must seek common ground.
“Our party has been on the front line of every civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, workers’ rights movement and other movements for justice in America.”
Although the candidates called for calm, their surrogates continued the back and forth, and the contest continued in all its furious intensity in Nevada as the candidates readied themselves for tonight’s debate in Las Vegas.
Obama backers, for instance, held a conference call that included Reno Democratic Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie. The purpose was to defend Obama’s record on abortion rights, as he expected an attack from Clinton at any minute. The Clinton campaign did just that with its own conference call.
On the eve of the debate, a poll published in the Reno Gazette-Journal showed a dead heat among Clinton, Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who has a large Nevada organization and appears in the state today for the first time this year.
The fight over caucus sites on the Strip continued to fracture Democrats on Monday. The group suing the state Democratic Party to shut down the nine at-large caucus locations designed for Strip shift workers both union and nonunion filed for a temporary restraining order to bar those sites in Saturday’s caucus.
Most Nevadans will attend the caucus in their home precincts, but to increase turnout, the party added special sites for anyone at work within 2 1/2 miles of the Strip. Shutting down the sites would tamp down participation, especially among members of the Culinary Union Local 226, which endorsed Obama last week.
The plaintiffs, which include the Nevada State Education Association, have ties to the Clinton campaign. Last week, the campaign said it was neutral on the issue of the at-large sites. But former President Bill Clinton, in Las Vegas campaigning for the former first lady, endorsed the principle of the lawsuit Monday and questioned the fairness of the at-large sites.
“The Democratic Party authorized nine different work sites, and you can only caucus there if you work there,” he said while talking to students at Green Valley High School. “So everyone else who works, it’s tough luck, too bad for you.”
Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor lashed out at Clinton on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” “President Clinton today came out against the at-large precincts. So he is in support of disenfranchising thousands upon thousands of workers, not just our members,” he said.
Many of the shift-workers, Taylor has pointed out, are black or Hispanic, a comment that continued to add to the racial edge of the campaign.
Taylor said the teachers union is just a front for the Clinton campaign. “Listen, the teachers union is being used here; we all know that.”
But opening a split on another front, in an appearance on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston,” John Hunt, chairman of the Clark County Democrats, endorsed the suit against the state party. Hunt called the plaintiffs patriots.
Taylor, who was also on that program, questioned the timing of the suit, and Hunt acknowledged that he should have registered complaints much sooner given that the caucus plan was agreed to months ago.
A Democratic source said there were informal discussions by attorneys on Monday, initiated by teachers. “There was no formal proposal, no meaningful consideration of any settlement,” the source said.
The at-large caucus sites weren’t the only action in court Monday. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a liberal long shot, sued for the right to be in Tuesday’s debate, which will be at Cashman Center and broadcast on MSNBC. A District Court judge agreed and ordered him allowed in. The network promised to appeal.
The candidates are to spend much time between now and the caucus in Nevada.
After a trip to California, where Obama is trailing, according to recent polls, he will return to Nevada on Thursday afternoon.
Edwards begins three days in Nevada today, with plans to appear in Las Vegas, Henderson and Reno.
Clinton, who released a new TV ad here on Monday, will spend Wednesday and Thursday in Nevada. But her husband carried the fight for her Monday.
At Doolittle Community Center in Las Vegas, pastor Robert Fowler of Victory Missionary Baptist Church defended the couple’s record among blacks.
“For 30 years the Clintons Bill and his wife were active in civil rights and fighting for women’s rights, as well as human rights,” Fowler, who is black, said to a crowd of 150.
“They have a proven track record, and for anyone to suggest that Bill and Hillary Clinton have a prejudiced bone in their bodies, that is a fairy tale. They have a track record of standing up for the community I represent.”
As the former president made three stops in Southern Nevada, Obama barnstormed the north, bringing out thousands to hear him speak in spots usually considered Republican strongholds.
He rallied 1,000 at the Reno convention center and spoke in front of another big crowd at a packed junior high school gymnasium in Fallon, a small Navy city in Churchill County, where Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry got just 26 percent of the vote four years ago.
After the Fallon event, Mari Jo Betterley signed an Obama pledge card, promising to caucus for the candidate on Saturday.
Betterley, who said she was undecided before the event, is in Obama’s sweet spot. Though a Democrat, she voted for Bush in 2004. She said Obama seemed sincere, honest and down-to-earth.
Obama continues to hit the theme of uniting the country, through a hopeful vision of a better future.
He took questions after he addressed the Fallon crowd and called on a little girl, who told him she had a statement: “I love you.”
Obama deadpanned. “That’s a good statement. That was one of the best statements I ever heard.”
After a speech to 2,000 people in Carson City late Monday, Christie Tews, who is white, told Obama that her biggest concern was beating the Republican nominee in November.
“Let’s get down to brass tacks,” Tews said. “We’ve never had a black president.”
“That’s a good point,” he said. “I hadn’t noticed that.”
He pointed out that in national polls he’s beating every potential Republican nominee right now.