NORTHRIDGE, CALIF. -- Two days before the Nevada caucuses - and just two days after the Democrats staged a near love-in of a debate - the gloves are off.
It's a complex dynamic that's yielded some sharp and overt hostility between all three of the leading Democrats. It begins with the most significant union endorsement in Nevada - the 60,000 member culinary workers' union - going to Obama. Next, a competing, and Clinton-friendly, union (though they haven't endorsed her officially) - the teachers - files a suit to block a plan to set up caucus locations in 9 casinos to allow workers with Saturday afternoon shifts to caucus. The teachers say it presents an unfair advantage to casino workers -- some of whom are in the culinary union. The teachers lose. You with me? Because here's where it starts to get nasty.
Another labor group that endorsed Obama - UNITE HERE - runs a Spanish-language radio ad, insinuating that the teachers' lawsuit was filed with Clinton backing, which the Clinton campaign denies.
The ad says (translation by UNITE HERE):
"Hillary Clinton does not respect our people. Hillary Clinton's supporters went to court to stop working people from being able to vote on Saturday. That is disgraceful. Unforgivable. Hillary Clinton does not respect our people who work hard. Hillary Clinton's supporters want to stop people who are working on Saturday so they can't vote. Disgraceful. Unforgivable. Hillary Clinton has no shame. Hillary Clinton should not let her friends attack the right of our people to vote on Saturday. Disgraceful. Unforgivable. No respect. Senator Barack Obama is defending our right to vote. Senator Obama wants our votes. He respects our votes. He respects our community, our gente. Barack Obama's campaign theme is 'Si Se Puede.' Yes we can. Vote for a President who respects us and our right to vote. Obama for President. Yes we can.
Through a surrogate, the Clinton campaign called on the Obama campaign to condemn the ad. Nothing doing.
"The fact is their camp clearly would like to have worker's voices silenced and they need to live with that unfortunate position," came the reply from an Obama spokesman.
Of course that wasn't going to be the last word. The Clinton campaign fired back: "In Iowa, Senator Obama and his campaign went out of his way to attack labor unions for independently promoting other candidates. But in Nevada, he's looking the other way as they falsely attack his opponents."
At that point, there was only one thing you could count on for sure. John Edwards wasn't going to sit this one out. His spokesman took up on the same side of the street as the Clintons -- skewering Obama for criticizing in Iowa what he won't in Nevada. "When Senator Obama says turn the page, he obviously means turn to whatever page is most convenient."
Suddenly Tuesday night's debate when Clinton, Obama, and Edwards were all smiles -- and kept their swords in their sheaths -- seems like months ago.