Clinton Picks up Key Hispanic Backer Nevada

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has landed a much-coveted endorsement in Nevada's Hispanic community, a group that will be closely watched during the state's early caucus.

Freshman state Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen said Saturday that he's
backing the New York senator, citing her education positions, health care plan and popularity in his largely working-class, Hispanic district in east Las Vegas.

"I agree with all of her views, but beyond that my constituents like her and they want to support her and it's going to be my responsibility to get those people out to the caucus," Kihuen told The Associated Press.

The 27-year-old lawmaker is one of only a handful of Hispanic elected officials in the state, which was given an early spot on the nomination calendar in part to highlight Hispanic voters' preference.

Kihuen is known for his dogged organizing, energy and close ties to his constituents. His support was sought by each of the Democratic candidates wanting to show strength among Hispanic voters here, many of whom also are union members.

"I have no doubt that Ruben will not only mobilize caucus-goers in the community for Sen. Clinton, but that he will also personally roll up his sleeves and knock on doors," said Rory Reid, the campaign's state chairman.

That work is necessary to mobilize Nevada's Hispanic community, which tends to be young, immigrant and less politically active than some more established communities in the West.

Past turnout rates and voting patterns cast doubt on whether Hispanics will flex decisive muscle in the Democratic caucus. While making up 25 percent of the population, Hispanics made up 13 percent of the vote in the 2006 general election in Nevada, polls show. Forty-five percent of those voted for the Republican candidate for Senate in that election.

Still, Democrats have been angling to demonstrate diverse support.

At Kihuen's request, most of the major Democrats campaigned in his district.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama held a rally at a high school. Former vice presidential nominee John Edwards visited a labor hall. Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd took a tour. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson held a house party. Clinton held an open house and a health care forum.

The attention won Kihuen a reputation as one of the new potential kingmakers in Nevada political circles.

Kihuen was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and grew up in Las Vegas.
He worked as a field organizer for the Democratic National Committee and a regional representative for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. The campaign announced Saturday that he would act as national co-chair for Hispanic outreach, along with Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers.

Clinton will formally accept the endorsement at a campaign stop in Kihuen's district next week, the campaign said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)