Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton will appeal for support Tuesday at the Nevada State AFL-CIO convention in Las Vegas, seeking to lock down that critical union endorsement for what has become an increasingly competitive race.
Mrs. Clinton has struggled to convince union leaders that she has their back after sowing distrust by refusing to take a firm position on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline or the pending trade deal with Pacific Rim countries — issues that are top priorities for the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for 56 member unions representing more than 12.5 million workers.
Still, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state has attempted to present herself as the union’s best ally for fighting against Republican attacks. She also adopted the union’s call for a higher minimum wage and advocated for new laws that would make it easier to unionize workplaces.
Some union leaders have said they prefer a more aggressively pro-union candidate such as Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent and avowed socialist who has emerged as the chief rival to Mrs. Clinton. But union support for Mr. Sanders was chilled by the perception that Mrs. Clinton was the Democratic Party’s all-but-inevitable nominee.
While Mrs. Clinton remains the dominant force in the primary race, Mr. Sanders has been gaining ground and even surging past her in one recent poll in New Hampshire, home to the nation’s first primary vote.
The burgeoning competition for Mrs. Clinton could be enough to keep the AFL-CIO on the sidelines until much later in the primary race.
A Fox News poll released Monday showed Mr. Sanders closing the gap with Mrs. Clinton, trailing her by 19 points, 49 percent to 30 percent among Democratic primary voters. The same poll showed Mrs. Clinton with a 29-point lead in late July/early August and a 46-point lead in June.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is eyeing a late entry into the race, finished in third place in the new poll, with 10 percent of the vote. That’s consistent with his score in the past two polls, in which he garnered 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
So far, endorsements from unions have split between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders.
Mrs. Clinton picked up endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), while Mr. Sanders got the nod from National Nurses United.
Some AFT members criticized the union’s leaders for coming out too early to endorse Mrs. Clinton.
In announcing the IAM endorsement last week, IAM President Tom Buffenbarger said his union “will not sit on the sidelines while this fight is so clearly underway.”
“Hillary Clinton has been a strong supporter of this union for years, and she is now the target of unprecedented attacks, financed on a scale never seen before,” he said. “The time to help is when help is needed most, and we intend to do just that.”
Mrs. Clinton has a full schedule Tuesday in Las Vegas. She will host a town hall-style meeting at a community center in North Las Vegas, then tour a carpenter union’s training center before addressing the AFL-CIO convention at the Luxor hotel-casino.
Mr. Sanders also will speak to the union convention Tuesday before headlining a rally at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another Democratic presidential hopeful, will address the union convention Wednesday. It will be his first visit to Nevada, which holds the nation’s fourth nominating contest after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Mrs. Clinton and other candidates, including Mr. Sanders, met separately with top AFL-CIO officials in a series of closed-door meetings last month at the union’s annual leadership meeting in Maryland.
“I asked for their support going forward. I asked them to be my partner in making sure that we stand against those powerful forces on the other side that don’t agree with the [union] agenda,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters after her meeting with the union bosses.