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Democratic candidates talk unions, veterans issues in Vegas

April 9, 2019
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a convention of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Monday, April 8, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a convention of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Monday, April 8, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Democrats Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg pitched themselves Monday to union workers and veterans in Nevada, two slices of the electorate in the early Western caucus state who prioritize policies over personality.

The trio of Democrats held several events around Las Vegas, marking the first visits to the state for Klobuchar and Buttigieg. Sanders, who has established himself as a front-runner among the dozen-plus Democrats seeking the White House in 2020, held a large rally in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson last month.

He and Klobuchar both delivered worker-friendly speeches Monday morning to more than 800 airline and rail workers gathered at the Paris Las Vegas casino-hotel for a conference of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The union, which has about 700,000 active and retired members, is one of the larger unions in North America, plans to hear from more candidates before issuing an endorsement.

Swing-state Nevada has 191,000 union workers, including members of politically powerful labor forces that tend to be a pillar of the Democratic electorate, like the Culinary Union made up of casino employees.

While Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator from a union family, received a warm reception from the workers as she pitched her trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, Sanders received loud cheers and 10 standing ovations from the crowd as he denounced corruption and concentrated power in American business and politics and described his campaign as a political revolution.

“We are taking on not just Donald Trump and the Republican Party. We are taking on the incredible power of the billionaire class in corporate America,” Sanders said.

He pledged to pick pro-worker appointees for the National Labor Relations Board, crack down on companies that don’t negotiate in good faith with workers and end across the country “disastrous right-to-work laws” that bar companies and unions from signing contracts that require workers to pay union dues or fees.

Sito Pantoja, the General Vice President of the union’s transportation department, said the Vermont senator has walked picket lines with the union members and was the only politician to make a video on their behalf in a labor dispute with Delta Air Lines.

“I haven’t heard a senator mention the word union so many times as Bernie Sanders has,” Pantoja said after Sanders’ speech.

The union made a video to introduce Sanders set to the Beatles song “Revolution,” while one of the union’s top officials, Owen Herrnstadt, introduced his longtime friend Klobuchar.

Herrnstadt, the chief of staff to the union’s international president, said the senator “was raised in a good union family” and has stood up to airline CEOs and large pharmaceutical companies.

Klobuchar told the labor union members that they are “not just the backbone of our workforce” but “the backbone of our country.” She pledged to beef up enforcement of antitrust laws and take on large, consolidated corporations in the airline, rail, and tech industries. She also described her infrastructure plan, which calls for rebuilding roads, highways and bridges, modernizing airports and investing in high-speed rail.

While in town, Klobuchar also visited with local Democrats and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, who represents the Las Vegas Strip and surrounding areas, and visited a local school.

While Klobuchar and Sanders pitched themselves to union members, Buttigeig, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, visited a nonprofit that provides housing and other services to veterans, a population he says deserves more attention from Democrats.

Nevada has about 300,000 veterans, who tend to be heavily courted by Republicans.

Buttigeig, a veteran who is still exploring a presidential bid and is making an announcement April 14, said he thinks veterans are “up for grabs politically” but Democrats need to do a better job of reaching them.

“Veterans are in every part of the country. Veterans have a special relationship to the concept of America,” he said. “And I think it’s also never been more true in my lifetime that veterans can’t be predicted in terms of political behavior.”

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