Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) picked up a potentially valuable ally Wednesday in the battle for California's Democratic presidential delegates: state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a key link to the state's powerful unions.
Nunez (D-Los Angeles) has joined Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign as a national co-chairman, an arrangement he announced Wednesday morning in Sacramento. Clinton, joining in by conference call, said she hoped to draw on Nunez's state experience in legislative efforts on issues such as global warming and healthcare.
"Look at the issues I am talking about in this campaign and the challenges America has [in] ... maintaining a vibrant middle class," Clinton said. "That's what the speaker has ... exemplified. I am going to be relying very heavily on his record of achievement."
As important may be Nunez's ties to organized labor, one of the party's key constituencies. Before his 2002 election to his Assembly seat representing downtown Los Angeles, Nunez lobbied for the Los Angeles Unified School District and served as political director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. He became speaker in 2004.
Nunez said he endorsed Clinton over other Democratic contenders because her eight years in the White House and work in the Senate gave "her the ability to handle the tough issues."
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) had also solicited his support, Nunez said, and he called them both before announcing his decision. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only Latino candidate running for the party's nomination, did not contact him about a possible endorsement, Nunez said.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the state's highest-profile Democrat and a close Nunez friend, has yet to endorse a candidate, though he has been a regular at Clinton fundraisers in Southern California.
The state primary is Feb. 5, when at least 20 states will hold primaries and caucuses in what is emerging as a national referendum on the major-party candidates for the 2008 election.