SPARKS - Bill Clinton, who carried Nevada in two general elections, urged voters Tuesday to buck labor endorsements for Sen. Barack Obama and support his wife in Saturday's hotly contested presidential caucuses as the only Democratic candidate with the experience necessary to change the country.
The former president trumpeted New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's accomplishments while painting Obama as the "establishment" candidate who would bring only the "feeling of change."
"One candidate says you should vote for me because I've not been involved at all in the struggles of the past and therefore we need to turn over a new leaf and (try) something absolutely new. And if you want the feeling of change, then that is the person you should support," Clinton said in a 75-minute speech to about 300 people in a YMCA gymnasium.
"The other candidate says vote for me because I spent a lifetime making change, raising hopes and fulfilling dreams for other people," he said about the former first lady.
In a speech to nearly 2,000 people in neighboring Reno on Monday, Obama portrayed himself as the candidate for change, his campaign's theme from the onset.
"You got to ask yourself, 'Who is best equipped to bring about this change you are hoping for?" said Obama, who later campaigned in Fallon and Carson City.
"I know how hard it is going to be to provide health care to every American. ... to fix our schools or reduce poverty. I know because I fought these fights," the former civil rights lawyer said.
After trailing Hillary Clinton by a 2-1 margin in Nevada as recently as November, a poll published this week showed Obama had moved into a virtual tie with her and former Sen. John Edwards.
Buoyed by an endorsement from the largest union in the state, Obama had 32 percent, Clinton 30 percent and Edwards 27 percent, according to the poll conducted for the Reno Gazette-Journal with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Bill Clinton said he talked with many of the 60,000-member Culinary Union's rank-and-file who intend to ignore the endorsement and vote for his wife.
"In this case the establishment organization is with him and the insurgents are with her," Clinton said in his speech. He then asked for a show of hands from about 50 precinct captains in the audience and challenged them to stand up to the union's leadership.
"They think they're better than you are at identifying and physically getting people to their caucus sites. And I bet they're wrong," he said to cheers.
Among the Democratic candidates remaining, Sen. Clinton is the only one "with a record of consistently passing important bills with the support of Republicans," Bill Clinton said.
"We cannot pass health care reform and we cannot pass energy reform without some Republican votes in the Senate," he said. "When she was in the White House, she worked with Republicans to double the number of kids moving out of foster homes. She has always been able to do this."