Culinary Union will not endorse ahead of Nevada caucuses

LAS VEGAS – Nevada’s most politically powerful labor union is staying out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race.

The Culinary Union on Thursday announced it would not back a contender in the wide-open race to challenge President Donald Trump.

Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline revealed the decision in a press conference streamed live on Facebook. 

“We’ve worked really hard to make sure members know what’s going on with the candidates, and we’re not stopping that,” she said. “We’re going to endorse our goals, what we’re doing. We’re not going to endorse a political candidate.

“We’re going to make sure people vote and we’re going to work really hard to defeat President Trump.”

The announcement deals a major blow to longtime Nevada poll-leader Joe Biden, whose campaign is already reeling from unexpectedly poor support in the nation’s first two presidential nominating contests.

The former vice president was once considered the front-runner for a potentially campaign-saving Culinary endorsement, especially after securing early backing from Nevada state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, the union’s influential former political director. Biden also has a longstanding relationship with political kingmaker and ex-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, though Reid, too, has sworn off of a pre-caucus endorsement.

More: Nevada’s most powerful labor union warns workers of Bernie Sanders’ health care plan

Related: Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Steyer to campaign to Culinary Union in Las Vegas

Progressive Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was also thought to be a top contender for the union’s backing, but her own lackluster showings in Iowa and New Hampshire appear to have scuttled that possibility. 

Thursday’s decision may come as a relief to fellow New England progressive Bernie Sanders, who had become a top target for union bosses worried about his plan to provide Medicare to all Americans. 

Culinary members fear the proposal would immediately dismantle the union’s top-tier private insurance plan. Their decision to stay out of the race spares Sanders a potentially devastating, union-orchestrated campaign to nominate a more moderate contender. 

Sanders responded to Culinary’s non-endorsement in a statement issued Thursday.

“I very much appreciate the struggle that the Culinary Union is waging to improve the lives of working families in Nevada and throughout this country, and I agree with their key goals,” he said. “I am running for president to create an economy that works for all of us, not just the one percent.

“And as president, I look forward to working side-by-side with the Culinary Union and their members to do just that.”

The Culinary Union represents 60,000 housekeepers, porters and bartenders working in Las Vegas casinos. Unite Here, the parent of the Culinary Union, announced in January that it is not planning to endorse a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary.

The Culinary is considered one of the more influential forces in Democratic politics in the state. Democratic candidates have been aggressive in courting the group’s support.

But the local sat out the 2016 Democratic primary after a divisive endorsement eight years earlier undermined its image as a well-oiled political machine. 

Early caucusing in Nevada begins on Feb. 15 at any one of 80 locations around the state. In-person caucusing is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Feb. 22. Nevada’s closed caucus system is open to registered Democrats who will be over the age of 18 by Nov. 3.

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Contributing: The Associated Press. 

Ed Komenda writes about Las Vegas for the Reno Gazette Journal and USA Today Network. Do you care about democracy? Then support local journalism by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal right here