What's Next in Campaign 2008
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
The next test of strength for the Democratic presidential candidates comes a week from tomorrow in Nevada, which is holding its earliest caucuses ever and doing it with the blessing of the National Democratic Party. The idea was to showcase one mountain west state with a substantial Hispanic vote. Hispanics are one-fourth of Nevada's population, and they cast about one vote in seven. Most are expected to prefer the Democratic caucuses over the Republican even though the only Hispanic candidate in the race, Bill Richardson, dropped out yesterday.
Joining me to talk about what all this might mean is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
And first off, Mara, Bill Richardson, he was supposed to be able to make his sort of big showing in Nevada, but he surprised a lot of people when he quit the race before the contest in that state.
MARA LIASSON: He really did. You know, Bill Richardson was the only sitting governor in the race from a neighboring state, the only Hispanic-American. You would think that's what his campaign was all about, but he just couldn't go on.
NORRIS: So I guess after that fourth place finish in Iowa and New Hampshire, he was just so discouraged or out of money or not willing to go to Nevada and possibly face a bit of embarrassment. What was it?
LIASSON: I think all those are good reasons. I think all those are the reasons he got out. He only got 5 percent of the vote in New Hampshire; he got 2 percent in Iowa. There was no sign of any traction for him in South Carolina; he doesn't have any money to compete on February 5th. He may still be thinking he can be considered for a vice presidential slot if he quits now and isn't further humiliated and doesn't take sides.
NORRIS: Now a big question about where his support might go. At least one candidate has already issued a press release saying really nice things about him after he dropped out of the race.
LIASSON: Yes, they're all saying nice things about him, and, of course, he had very nice things to say about all the candidates. And actually, he's had so many nice things to say and particularly, about Hillary Rodham Clinton when she looked like the dominant front-runner. It gave a lot of people the impression that he really was running for vice president.
NORRIS: So with him - with Richardson out of the race, do the Republicans now have a fair shot or at least a better shot at the Hispanic vote in Nevada?
LIASSON: Well, in theory, John McCain from neighboring Arizona would have some appeal here, but I think in practice, the Republican candidates are ignoring Nevada. They have two other contests that they're focusing on - Michigan on Tuesday and then South Carolina primary which is key for the Republicans. I don't know if any nominee has ever lost South Carolina. It's on the same day as Nevada, and you can see by their travel schedules that the Republicans are practically ignoring the state. They're really leaving it to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
NORRIS: So what about the Democrats? Who now benefits from Richardson's absence?
LIASSON: Well, there are two Democrats who are still competitive, one who's barely competitive; that's John Edwards. He is, of course, focusing on his native state of South Carolina which votes on the 26th. He doesn't have any time or resources for Nevada. And in a real indication of his diminishing fortunes - he is the guy who had built himself as a labor candidate, and the unions in Nevada went with Obama instead, so I think another indication that this really is a two-person race on the Democratic side.
NORRIS: Mara, speaking of all of those unions, how much do those union endorsements mean in a state like that?
LIASSON: In Nevada, they mean a lot. They don't mean as much in other states, but this is a caucus state, it's a brand new caucus, so organization and education is key. The culinary workers, which endorsed Obama, is 60,000 people, about 40 percent of them are Hispanic. SCIU is 17,000 people, probably pretty similar ethnic makeup. Also, these are young workers. Latino voters, in general, skew young, and that is Obama's demographic.
Also today, I should mention that Obama got the endorsement of a neighboring governor, Janet Napolitano from Arizona. Arizona votes on February 5th; maybe that would have a little spillover effect to Nevada.
But, you know, Hillary Clinton came to Las Vegas yesterday. She's not giving up the state. She headed for a Latino neighborhood. She went door-to-door. She showed her new, accessible, emotional style. She's not conceding anything, and she also has recently released a new ad kind of emphasizing her new empathetic approach where she reprises her New Hampshire victory speech where she says, by listening to you, I found my voice.
So it's a real battle royal in Nevada. I think these are two very easily matched candidates.
NORRIS: We'll be watching. That was NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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