In Iowa, New Hampshire and now Nevada, the Clinton campaign has sought to suppress the vote of her rivalsâ€™ supporters.
The headlines say the latest schism among the top Democratic presidential candidates is over gender and race. But on the ground in the presidential seasonâ€™s opening states, there is a darker narrative: that Hillary Clinton will not just fight hard, but fight dirty, to win. And her tactic of choice is attempting to suppress the votes of her rivalâ€™s supporters.
The latest example is from Nevada, where the Nevada State Education Association is widely seen as filing a suit on Clintonâ€™s behalf to stop Las Vegasâ€™ most powerful union, Culinary Workers Local 226, from caucusing inside downtown casinos after the union endorsed Obama. The tactic foments a split along racial and class lines in arguably the strongest union city in America.
â€œItâ€™s horrible,â€ said one longtime Nevada activist, who didnâ€™t want his name used. â€œIt will cause fights and damage that will last for years.â€
But the Clinton campaign has made similar moves in New Hampshire and Iowa.
In the first primary state, her supporters — backed by New Hampshire Democratic Party officials — pressured poll workers to remove observers stationed by the Obama campaign. These volunteers had intended to track voters as part of their get-out-the-vote effort. That tactic came after the Clinton campaign sent a mailing targeting women that said Obama would not â€œstand up and protectâ€ a womenâ€™s right to choose because he had voted â€œpresentâ€ — but not yes — on a few abortion-related bills in the Illinois legislature.
â€œIâ€™ve kept most mailers I got from every presidential candidate this year, and that mailer was the absolute worst,â€ wrote New Hampshire blogger Peter Glenshaw. â€œNever mind that Obama has a 100 percent approval rating from Planned Parenthood in Illinois. Never mind that Planned Parenthood asked him to vote â€˜presentâ€™ on those bills.â€
And in Iowa, the Clinton campaign — with the help of the stateâ€™s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, which endorsed her — was discouraging students from returning from winter break to vote, even though their right to do so was legal, said Rick Hasen, who writes a respected election law blog. â€œIndeed such voting could help to compensate for the otherwise anti-democratic nature of Iowaâ€™s role in the presidential election process,â€ he said.
As the nomination process has unfolded and Clinton has encountered resistance in every state so far — including Obamaâ€™s Friday endorsement by the 60,000-member Las Vegas Culinary Workers Union — her campaignâ€™s increasingly critical rhetoric has been accompanied by voter suppression tactics aimed at her rivalâ€™s core voters.
While Clinton campaign surrogates have verbally accused Obama of many things, from â€œfairy taleâ€ answers on Iraq to being a drug user while they served the country more nobly, intentionally suppressing voters — especially under-represented, low-income minority union members — stands out in 2008â€™s Democratic presidential campaign.
After all, the Democratic National Committee moved Nevadaâ€™s caucuses to the top of the primary lineup so minority voices could be heard — and no organization is more aligned with those voters in Nevada than the Culinary Union, whose training materials for its members are printed in four languages. In contrast, the state teachers, whose suit seeks to stop those workers from caucusing in nine â€œat-largeâ€ precincts in big downtown casinos, have a statewide base because its members work throughout Nevada.
The NSEA suit claims the at-large casino caucuses are not fair to the stateâ€™s other voters because they will likely be overrun with voters, thereby skewing the proportional representation of Clark County delegates to the state party convention.
Neither NSEA officials nor their Las Vegas lawyers returned calls on Monday. However their suit states that â€œby packing as much as 10 percent or more delegates into the county convention, the at-large precinct caucus system (created for the casinos) substantially diminishes the voting power of delegates from other county precinct caucuses.â€
In other words, a strong turnout from the tens of thousands of Culinary Workers Union members in Las Vegas, where 70 percent of Nevada voters live, could swing the stateâ€™s early foray into presidential politics. In 2000, fewer than 1,000 people participated in Nevadaâ€™s caucuses. In 2004, that number was about 9,000. This year, estimates are in the tens of thousands.
Nevada political insiders say the NSEA lawsuit is designed to suppress Obamaâ€™s voters.
â€œThatâ€™s the common narrative at this point,â€ said Pilar Weiss, the Culinary Workers Unionâ€™s political director, when asked if there was any other way to interpret the suit. â€œA caucus system is all proportional representation. Itâ€™s not unfair in any way. They (the state Democratic Party) made an accommodation for Clark County.â€
Another Nevada activist who has worked for years in the state was even blunter.
â€œThis (caucus) plan was created by some of the same people who are plaintiffs in the suit against it,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s not that they didnâ€™t like the plan when Clinton was ahead.â€