By Samantha Hayes in Washington, D.C.
As it stands now in the race for the Democratic nomination, the score is one-one. Barack Obama won the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, Hillary Clinton edged him out in the New Hamsphire primary. But the next two states to weigh in are much different demographically. Soon Latino and African-American voters will make their voices heard in the process to nominate A Democratic candidate.
The Nevada caucuses on January 19th are new to the early presidential voting calendar for 2008. Latinos are about a fifth/quarter of the population in the state but only half are eligible to vote. Still, Democratic gains in the West are being attributed, in part, to the support of Latinos.
Democrats have been holding dozens of mock caucuses around the state to prepare voters for the real thing this Saturday.
Of the two front-runners, Barack Obama has the backing of two powerful labor unions in Nevada: the state's chapter of the Service Employees International Union and the Culinary Workers' Union.
In Reno Monday evening, Obama told reporters, "My history is excellent with Latino support in Illinois because they knew my record -- that I stood for and supported comprehensive immigration reform."
But his chief rival, Hillary Clinton, is supported by influential politicians in the state including Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And Monday her campaign announced that two young actresses will be campaigning for Clinton in Nevada and other states.
One of them, America Ferrara, stars in ABC's comedy-drama "Ugly Betty," and is quoted in a campaign media release saying, "I look forward to rallying young people to use their voices and get involved. I believe that Hillary Clinton can turn this country around." Ferrara, who was named Hispanic Woman of the Year in 2007 by The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, might appeal to Latinos and young voters.
Also important to Hillary Clinton is the support of African-Americans who backed her husband, the former president. Today, Clinton attended a birthday celebration in New York honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Clinton and Obama have been involved in a tense exchange over insinuations of using race for political gain before two states with significant minority populations vote.
Clinton accuses Obama of distorting recent remarks she made about the political influence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Obama supporters question the timing of that accusation, saying Clinton's campaign may be deliberately bringing up the issue of race as Obama has gained momentum.
The back and forth will inevitably influence African American voters who make up fifty percent of Democrats who are eligible to vote in South Carolina's primary.
South Carolina is the first southern state to weigh in, and its primary may be the first time race becomes a tangible factor in the nomination process.