Las Vegas, NV - Just minutes before local voters entered one of the controversial casino-based caucus sites at the Mirage resort Saturday morning, former president Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to personally lobby voters on behalf of his wife and to accuse her pro-Barack Obama union opponents of deliberately intimidating and misdirecting potential caucusers
The former president then entered the caucus site ballroom setting off a polarized, passionate exchange of shouts and chants between supporters of his wife Hillary Clinton and those of Obama, bringing forth charges from some voters that it was Clinton himself who was engaged in intimidation.
As caucusers lined up outside the Mirage ballroom, Clinton mingled with the crowd hugging whomever was in reach and avidly urging those present to support Hillary Clinton. He told The HuffPost that his wife's campaign staff had been "flooded" with complaints from hotel workers throughout the city that they have been "rescheduled" and "reassigned [by the union] and told they could not vote until November."
In dialog with the HuffPost, Clinton charged at least three times that the Culinary Workers Union, which endorsed Obama, was deliberately trying to suppress votes of pro-Clinton union members. "We hope there won't be so much of this that she won't be competitive," he said, referring to his wife's chances of winning today's Democratic caucus.
Immediately after he made his charges of voter intimidation, the ex-president then stationed himself inside the door of the caucus room and began to individually lobby voters on behalf of his wife.
Democratic Party officials had taken pains to make sure that no partisan signage or literature would be allowed inside caucus sites and that once the complicated voting process got underway no outsiders could have contact with the caucusers.
Clinton broke none of the ground rules but came up right up to the line as he lingered until the last minute and continued to whip up support for his wife's campaign. A Democratic official on site told the Huffington Post that if Mr. Clinton was still inside when the caucus gets underway, he would be required to be "properly credentialed or he would have to be removed."
Clinton's presence inside the room ignited an noisy ruckus of cheers and counter-cheers that divided the attendees. White T-shirted supporters of Ms. Clinton loudly chanted "Hil-la-ry! Hil-la-ry!" while Obama supporters in red T-shirts, raised their fists in the air and chanted back "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!"
Obama supporters were outraged by Clinton's presence in the caucus room. "This is a dirty trick," Mirage resort cook Maria Cortez told The HuffPost in Spanish. "He's the one who is trying to intimidate us," she said angrily. "No other candidates are in here? What's he doing here ? Just trying to pressure us."
Another Culinary Union member, Amelia Morland, also speaking in Spanish, said: "Everything's changed about Clinton. He's not the man he used to be."
Clinton was accompanied into the caucus room by long-time supporter and fundraiser Terry McAuliffe. "We were told that any of us could come to talk to voters," he told The Huffington Post. "We're encouraging people to vote. There is no intimidation," he said though there was no reference to intimidation in the reporter's question.
On the other side of the room among supporters of Hillary Clinton, several female workers from Circus Circus backed up Bill Clinton's charges and said they had been "pressured" by union reps to caucus for Obama but denied they had been directly threatened or rescheduled. "A union rep came to us on lunch break and said that if we didn't go with Obama we wouldn't be able to get a ride on union the bus to get us here today," said former union steward Judy Mollus. "They pressured us, but there's really nothing they can do. In the end the bus brought about 20 and five or six of us were Hillary supporters."
The Mirage site was among nine casino-based at-large caucuses agreed upon by Democratic officials to service hotel shift workers who would otherwise not be able to participate. Last week a group of plaintiffs associated with the Clinton campaign launched an unsuccessful attempt to scuttle the casino caucuses, accusing them of favoring the pro-Obama union of Culinary workers that staff the hotels.
But once the caucusing got underway this morning inside the Mirage it was immediately evident that those who showed up felt more than free to express their preferences, especially the supporters of Hillary Clinton. As a preliminary first count was concluded 153 Nevadans caucused for Obama and 178 for Clinton.
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