Las Vegas, Nevada - Predicting a "record turn-out" for Saturday's presidential caucuses, Barack Obama closed out his Silver State campaign last night by mocking his opponents John Edwards and Hillary Clinton and arguing that he only could deliver profound political change.
"We're glad that we placed our bet on the American people," Obama said referring to the decision he made with his wife, Michelle, more than a year ago to run for the presidency. "We hit the jackpot...the American people understand they are the agents of change.."
Employing a more harder-edged tone than has become customary on the stump, Obama delivered his final Nevada campaign speech before a sizeable outdoor evening rally at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Characterizing the primary fight as a "fierce battle" that will "decide who we are as Democrats," the Illinois Senator derided rivals Clinton and Edwards for engaging in what he called "doublespeak."
Referring to a statement Clinton made about a bankruptcy-related congressional bill during a recent televised presidential debate, Obama adopted a markedly sarcastic tone saying: "Did you hear what Senator Clinton said? 'I voted for it but I hoped it wouldn't pass.'" Pausing for a moment to allow the audience a laugh, Obama added in a jocular tone: "That's a quote! That's what happens when you're in Washington too long. You don't speak English no mo.'"
While not generating as much media coverage as earlier contests this month in Iowa and New Hampshire, the fight to win Saturday's Nevada caucuses has been the most bitterly fought among the top Democratic contenders. Lawsuits, razor-edged radio ads, an escalated trading of accusations, and a veritable guerrilla ground war among competing unions has marked the campaign that ends 11:30 a.m. Saturday when Nevadans walk into 500 caucus sites, including nine located inside Vegas resort casinos.
Most Nevada political insiders agree that Obama, lagging a handful of points behind Clinton in the relatively few polls that have been published, will need precisely the sort of massive turn-out of new voters he is predicting in order to come out on top.
Problem is, virtually nobody feels comfortable guessing who will or will not actually show up. "We're hoping for 60,000," said a key Nevada Democratic Party official. "But even we don't really have a clue."
Less than 9,000 Democrats caucused in the 2004 elections. But with Nevada having been moved up to one of the four early-voting states, all bets are off. At one point earlier this year, rosy predictions of a turn-out of 100,000 or more had been bandied in the press by leading Democrats. That figure has slowly been walked back with some now predicting as few as 30,000. "It's like walking into one of these hotels and spinning the roulette wheel," said the Democratic official. "Some of our rural precincts have like a total of five or six Democrats in them. Who knows whether they're going to take two hours out on Saturday morning to go caucus."
The Obama and Clinton campaigns airlifted as many as 100 paid staffers each precisely to get as many supporters as possible into the caucus sites. The 60,000 member Culinary Workers Union has converted itself into nothing less than a small army tin support of Obama. The smaller AFSCME public employees union has imported 125 organizers from out of state to bolster Clinton. The Steelworkers and Carpenters unions are hitting the streets for Edwards. The final push to get Nevadans into caucus sites will begin with mammoth pre-dawn logistical maneuvers including last-minute door knocking, phone banking and organizing van rides for seniors and anyone else who wants to be carted to a caucus site.
Though holding a five to nine point lead in the various polls released this week, the Clinton campaign Friday afternoon issued an odd public statement from top strategist Mark Penn that attempted to offer a pre-emptive explanation if Senator Clinton fails to win. While citing her top ranking in two different polls, Penn said that Obama will have " a clear 5-point advantage starting out" because of what he claimed was an unfair tilt provided by the nine casino-based caucus sites. 'We have a great organization, huge crowds and a great candidate," Penn said. "But if the polls turn out differently from the result," he added, "there may be an easy explanation for it this time."
Penn's statement, widely circulated to reporters, was viewed as highly unusual by political observers as it seemed to confirm a charge that the Clinton campaign denied earlier this week. When a teachers' union group went into court arguing that the casino-caucuses gave an extra leg-up to the pro-Obama Culinary Union members who staff the resorts, the Clinton campaign declared itself neutral in the matter.
On Thursday afternoon a federal judge threw out the legal challenge and now, a day later and on the eve of the caucuses, one of the most prominent members of the Clinton seemed to be directly endorsing the failed challenge.
Results of the Nevada caucuses are expected in the early afternoon Saturday. The three top Democratic candidates were scheduled to immediately leave Las Vegas and head toward next week's primary battle in South Carolina.