L.A. Mayor Endorses Hillary Clinton

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton picks up the endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who will become a national co-chair of her campaign. The benefits for Clinton are significant as Villaraigosa is one of the country's most prominent Latino elected officials and leads the largest city in a state with an early February primary.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Hillary Clinton picked up a major endorsement here in Los Angeles yesterday from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who will become the national co-chair of her campaign. The benefits for Clinton are significant. Villaraigosa is one of the country's most prominent Latino-elected officials and he leads the largest city in a state with an early February primary.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE: On her campaign Web site, Hillary Clinton is holding a contest to pick her campaign theme song. It's been narrowed down to 10, but until yesterday she hadn't heard this contender.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Hello.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Hello.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Hello.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Hello.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) We welcome you today. Hello, hello.

JAFFE: A preschool on the campus of UCLA was the setting chosen for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to make his endorsement of Senator Clinton. It highlighted her support for universal preschool. So before the endorsement came story time. Senator Clinton read, the mayor and children following along.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): (Reading) Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.

Unidentified Group: Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.

JAFFE: Later in front of a small invited group of adults, Villaraigosa said that Hillary Clinton's support for a universal preschool was just one of many reasons he was backing her.

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Hillary Clinton has the strength, the experience, a record of proven results. She's the one candidate who's been there and she has my vote for president of the United States of America.

(Soundbite of cheering)

JAFFE: This endorsement came as no surprise to political insiders. Villaraigosa is considered a rising star in Democratic politics nationwide, and he's been courted by the Clintons. In fact, members of Villaraigosa's political staff are now working for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Yesterday, before making her own brief stump speech, the senator spent a few minutes lavishing praise on the mayor.

Senator CLINTON: There are a lot of things I admire about him. But in particular I find that he is an honest optimist and a practical visionary.

JAFFE: The backing of L.A.'s popular charismatic mayor feeds into Clinton's efforts to make her nomination seem inevitable, says political scientist Rayfil Sonenshine(ph). He says it should also helped her connect with the nation's growing number of Latino voters, who have become increasingly important to her prospects.

Mr. RAYFIL SONENSHINE (Political Scientist): Because Barack Obama had a pretty strong campaign against her so far and is eating into her African-American support, which had been one thing she could count on having an edge over the other candidates, she hasn't really been unassailable.

JAFFE: But Villaraigosa might have the most impact on Clinton's campaign closer to home, says Democratic political consultant Garry South.

Mr. GARRY SOUTH (Democratic Political Consultant): He will be, I think, of great benefit to her not just in the Latino community, because I don't think he's a boutique endorser in that sense. He'll be a great value to her in the city of L.A., which is still the biggest city in the state. The L.A. media market is about 40 to 45 percent of all the voters in California.

JAFFE: If there's any downside in this relationship, says Rayfil Sonenshine, it might be for Villaraigosa, who's pledged to campaign for Clinton around the country.

Mr. SONENSHINE: There's a long history in Los Angeles of mayors getting criticized for being on the road too much. People may not notice much in Los Angeles politics, but they do notice if the mayor is not around.

JAFFE: But for Villaraigosa it may all be worth risking for a higher national profile and maybe some clout with the possible next president of the United States.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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