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Obama gets union endorsements in key caucus state

  • Story Highlights
  • Nevada culinary worker and service employee unions back Barack Obama
  • Nevada caucuses is next big event on Democratic primary calendar
  • Two unions represent nearly 77,500 workers combined
  • Union members provide critical "ground troops" for campaigns
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(CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday picked up endorsements from two key unions in Nevada, moves that could give the Illinois Democrat a significant leg up over rival Hillary Clinton in the state's caucuses next week.

Many Culinary Workers Union members work in Las Vegas' glittery hotels and casinos.

The Nevada caucuses, on January 19, is the next big event on the Democratic primary calendar.

The Culinary Workers Union, Local 226 and the Service Employees International Union of Nevada both endorsed Obama on Wednesday.

The 60,000-strong Culinary Workers Union includes members working in Las Vegas and Reno casinos and other locations in the Las Vegas area, and members working in other areas -- such as serving cocktails and housekeeping -- besides kitchen positions, according to the union Web site.

The SEIU in Nevada has 17,500 members, the group said, and nearly two-thirds of them are registered to vote. The union represents health care and public service employees across the state, according to SEIU-Nevada's Web site.

"The SEIU Nevada Executive Board voted overwhelmingly in support of the senator, citing his commitment to solving the issues facing the American people, including protecting workers rights," the union said in a statement.

The "overwhelming participation" of voters in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary showed that "Americans are ready for change," SEIU Executive Vice President Shauna Hamel said.

Obama came out on top of the Democratic pack in the Iowa caucus and finished a close second to Sen. Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.

"We believe that Obama is the candidate who can bring the country together, and we are proud to support his candidacy," Hamel said in the statement.

A union endorsement can provide an important boost to a campaign. A union's backing often means an infusion of support for the campaigns, especially ground troops to help get out the vote.

But union endorsements don't always mean victory. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and SEIU both endorsed Howard Dean for president in during the 2004 presidential cycle. Two months later, after defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, Dean dropped out of the race for the White House.

As a result of the experiences four year ago, unions have been more tentative when deciding whom to back.

"Organized labor wants to avoid a 2004 repeat, when union endorsements didn't bring victory to either Richard Gephardt or Howard Dean," said CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Gephardt captured more union endorsements than any other candidate in 2004, but the former House Democratic leader gave up his bid for the White House after a poor finish in the Iowa caucuses. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN Nevada producer Alexander Marquardt and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

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