Bill's Caucus Beef

Bill's Caucus Beef

Bill's Caucus Beef

A campaign blog.
Jan. 16 2008 3:07 PM

Bill's Caucus Beef

It’s no secret that union endorsements are more powerful in states with caucuses than in those with primaries. Without the privacy of the voting booth, you’re much less likely to flout your union’s preference. But that’s exactly what Bill Clinton is asking Nevadans to do.

The former president told an audience in Sparks, Nev., yesterday that he had spoken with members of the Culinary Workers union who said they would ignore the union's endorsement and caucus for Hillary. "They think they're better than you are at identifying and physically getting people to their caucus sites," he said. "And I bet they're wrong."

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The Clintons have made their disdain for caucuses plenty clear. "You have a limited period of time on one day to have your voices heard," Hillary said last week after Obama won Iowa and the Culinary endorsement. "That is troubling to me. You know in a situation of a caucus, people who work during that time—they're disenfranchised."

But then, when it became clear that otherwise-disenfranchised culinary workers would likely dominate the at-large precincts set up in Vegas hotels, the Clintons opposed that, too. The Nevada State Education Association, whose leadership largely supports Clinton, filed a suit protesting ( legitimately , it seems) that the at-large precincts give caucus-goers disproportionate influence. Bill agreed with the complaint: "I think the rules oughta be the same for everybody." Of course, there was no objection to the process before Obama won the union's backing.

This argument—that caucuses are inherently unfair and undemocratic—has merit. It doesn't allow everyone to vote. It weights some votes more than others. There's no secret ballot. But somehow these points only come up in the statements of the losing (or handicapped to lose) party. Watch them resurface if Hillary doesn’t win Nevada. If she does … well, then maybe the system isn’t so bad after all.

UPDATE 4:22 p.m.: The Culinary Workers union weighs in on Bill's statements. "I think if we had endorsed Hillary Clinton, they probably wouldn’t be sayingthat," spokesman Chris Bohner tells me. "I think they would be urging members to followthe union leadership."