Fresh from a second-place showing in the New Hampshire primary, Barack Obama won a key endorsement in Nevada Wednesday from the state's influential Culinary Union.
The 60,000-member union, which represents Nevada's casino, hotel and restaurant employees, made the announcement in conjunction with its parent union, Unite Here, which has 460,000 members nationwide. The nod is Obama's first national labor endorsement.
Nevada is the next major battleground state in the Democratic nominating process, and the Culinary Union was heavily courted by each of the candidates.
The endorsement is especially important to Obama's campaign, since his chief rival Hillary Clinton has locked up the majority of the state's elected officials and power players. Her Nevada campaign chairman Rory Reid heads the Clark County Commission - the most influential local government in the state -- and is the son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Even as Obama's new union support was made public, Clinton's campaign announced the endorsement of the state's only Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Shelley Berkeley.
The culinary union has a reputation in Nevada for mobilizing its members, and its support could give a substantial boost to Obama. The state Democratic Party has long predicted a relatively low turnout of 40,000 people for the January 19 caucus, so even a small shift in support may prove decisive.
Nevada watchers said the endorsement may be a sign of confidence in Obama's ability to win the caucus within a union that is deeply tied to state politics.
"These guys are absolutely committed. These guys were on a picket line for six years in front of the Frontier Hotel," Steve Sebelius, editor of the Las Vegas City Life newspaper, told the Huffington Post.
In a state where gaming is king and the house doesn't like to lose, Sebelius said that the union's leadership has put all its chips on Obama, and plans to do everything in its power to see that he wins the caucus.
"If they lose, this is a major blow to the Culinary's ability and its organizing prowess," Sebelius said. "We are talking about people who are dealing with some of the largest gaming companies in the world. If they show they cannot deliver, that is not good when their contacts come up."
Added Las Vegas historian Michael Green, "The culinary has gotten into some campaigns over the years, but there has always been the sense that it is kind of a sheathed sword. They don't pull out their power that often unless they have to," Green said.
But Green cautioned against discounting the prowess of the Clinton operation in Nevada.
"There is no question that the Culinary leadership, when they put their mind to it, they can organize," said Green, who teaches at the College of Southern Nevada. "Clinton certainly has the reputation deservedly for not only putting together a machine, but also having a good operation."