Clinton courts Nevada's Hispanics

January 12, 2008 4:45:00 PM PST
Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, attempting to earn the "la presidenta" title bestowed by supporters in the West in recent days, appealed to Nevada's Hispanic community Saturday to back her potentially history-making candidacy as an affirmation of the American dream they share. "Help us reach our common purpose," Clinton said at a rally touting her support within the Hispanic community. "The common purpose of America is progress, not just for the wealthy and the well-connected, but everyone. Every single person deserves a shot at the American dream. That is why I'm running for president."

Clinton, reinvigorated after an unexpected win in New Hampshire's primary last week, has spent the last three days courting the crucial Hispanic vote in Nevada, which holds presidential cacuses Jan. 19, and in California, the biggest prize on Feb. 5 when more than 20 states hold presidential contests.

In Nevada, where one in four residents is of Hispanic or Latino descent, Clinton's push is no surprise.

"Si, se puede," supporters cheered her at a union hall with New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and former Cabinet secretary Henry Cisneros in tow. "Yes, we can."

It was the same chant Obama joined in only a day earlier as he picked up the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union, the largest and most powerful labor organization in the state.

Clinton's caucus record isn't great - she placed a disappointing third in Iowa's caucuses.

But she's not conceding Nevada's caucuses, or the Hispanic voting bloc. On Thursday, she went door-to-door in a largely Hispanic neighborhood here with Ruben Kihuen, a charismatic member of the state Assembly who is helping her campaign. She went to East Los Angeles a day later to eat at King Taco on Cesar Chavez Boulevard with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And on Saturday, she came back to Las Vegas and Reno to build support among Hispanics.

Nationally, among Hispanics who are registered Democrats, 59 percent said they want Clinton to be their party's presidential candidate, followed by 15 percent who prefer Obama, according to a survey released last month by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

Clinton's advisers and supporters have emphasized that her campaign could make history while working to not alienate minority voters who might be tempted to vote for Obama, who could be the first black president.

"We will make history when she becomes president of the United States," Cisneros said. "For the first time we will have a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister as president of the United States."

Clinton also praised New Mexico Gov Bill Richardson, who tried to become the nation's first Hispanic president, but dropped out of the race after a poor showing in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has yet to endorse one of his former rivals.

"He broke through a barrier by running for president," she said. "I salute his service and thank him for his many kindnesses to me."

It's unclear, whether Clinton can become, as supporters called her, "la presidenta" without deep support in the Hispanic community.

"Vamos a este caucuses," Cisneros said, rallying sheet metal workers in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Clinton has been talking about a practical approach to immigration in recent weeks, saying those who favor deportation of illegal immigrants ignore the logistical impossibility. She said it would take $200 billion and a convoy of 200,000 buses stretching 1,700 miles to make the border impenetrable.

"I think Americans would put up with that for a nanosecond," she said. "Let's get real here. That will never happen."

Clinton was scheduled late Saturday to fly to South Carolina, where rival and native son John Edwards has been campaigning since the day after the New Hampshire primary, playing up his Palmetto State roots.

"Nobody has to tell me what's happening in South Carolina. I don't jet in here and hold a political event and go back somewhere else. I'm not from Chicago or New York. I'm from South Carolina, " Edwards told reporters after a town hall meeting Saturday in Barnwell, S.C.

South Carolina holds its Democratic primary Jan. 26. Associated Press Writer Bruce Smith in Barnwell, S.C., contributed to this report.