The powerful Nevada Culinary union just joined Iowa and New Hampshire in failing to offer clarity in a muddled Democratic race

Union members listen during a town hall meeting at the Culinary Union Local 226 headquarters in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.
Union members listen during a town hall meeting at the Culinary Union Local 226 headquarters in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.STEVE MARCUS/Associated Press

First, the New York Times couldn’t endorse just one Democratic presidential candidate. Then Iowans couldn’t correctly report results of their very close caucuses. The fine folks in New Hampshire gave Bernie Sanders a win, but offered no real clarity.

On Thursday, when a powerful Nevada union called a news conference for what would have been the most important endorsement yet in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, it whiffed. The group, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, said it would “endorse our goals” but not a candidate.

Nevada’s Culinary Union will not endorse in Democratic race
The Culinary Union, the most influential union in Nevada politics, has decided to stay out of the state's Democratic presidential caucuses. (Video: Handout, Photo: John Locher/AP)


The news conference came a little more than a week out from the Nevada Caucuses, the third contest in the presidential primary season.


And while union hasn’t said who it is for, the group most definitely has made clear who it is against: any candidate who backs Medicare for All. That ruled out both Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

It’s hard to overstate the importance the endorsement would have had. To learn why, let’s do some quick numbers.

In 2016, an estimated 80,000 people took part in the Democratic Nevada Caucuses. Currently, the local culinary union says they represent 60,000 casino, hotel, and restaurant workers in the Las Vegas area.

Of course, not every member of the union is a Democrat. Not all members will participate, and those who do won’t vote uniformly with their union. But there are caucus locations inside hotels on the Strip and, for the first time, early voting will be allowed for shift workers, so they can make their voices heard at a time that works for them.

But even if a third of culinary union members did caucus for the person the union had backed, that could give a candidate 25 percent of the vote.

For context, Sander’s won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday with 25.7 percent of the vote.


This is only the third time the Nevada Democratic Caucuses have a spot on the early part of the calendar. For the most part, candidates and the media have largely ignored the state’s contest until the final days.

But in 2016, Clinton’s campaign aides felt that her win there, after losing New Hampshire by 22 points, got back her White House bid back on track and set them up to eventually win the nomination. That year, the culinary union didn’t endorse.

The group backed Barack Obama in 2008, but there were reportedly a lot of defections among union members to Clinton, helping her barely win the caucuses that year.

That was a two-person contest, as it was in 2016. This one is a multi-candidate contest where endorsements can have more clout.

Like 2016, with the current Democratic presidential race so unsettled, the Nevada Caucuses could end up being very important in giving the race definition. And an endorsement from the culinary union could have gone a long way in defining this particular Nevada Caucus.

But the group caught indecision fever, which seems to be going around these days.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.