Tonight in Las Vegas

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What to watch and listen for in tonight’s CNN Democratic debate:

Presumably, by now, all the candidates know that the preferred pronounciation of the state by its residents is with a flat A, as in Nev-aaaaa-da, and not Nev-AW-da.

There will be an important subtext, however, to everything that is said from the stage tonight. As Nevada prepares to hold its first-ever early caucuses (in large part due to the lobbying of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid), all the candidates will be pitching their messages to the key on-the-ground players in Nevada Democratic politics–the state’s two big unions, Local 226 of the Culinary Workers and the Nevada local of the Service Employees International Union. Over at Huffington Post, Marc Cooper has this take on the state of the race from the perspective labor’s big guns in the Nevada:

Senator Clinton is currently leading Nevada’s Democratic polls at 51%, almost 30 and 40 points ahead of challengers Barack Obama and John Edwards, respectively. Clinton has also lined up in her campaign corner an impressive majority of Nevada’s leading Democratic elected officials. But the brawny Local 226 of the Culinary Workers union, representing some 60,000 casino employees, seems in no hurry to get in line with Clinton — or any other of the candidates who have been assiduously courting the union vote.

“We will make an endorsement. But we will make it when we are ready,” D. Taylor, veteran leader of the Culinary Workers told The HuffPost. “And we’re not yet ready.”

With its formidable capacity to provide canvassers, volunteers, phone-bankers, voters and strategic political connections, support from Taylor’s union is considered one of the top prizes in Nevada campaign strategizing.

As for SEIU, Cooper writes:

A similar attitude prevails among the Nevada local of America’s biggest union, the 1.9 million member Service Employees International Union. After the national SEIU, which had long leaned toward John Edwards, decided last month to leave endorsement to individual state chapters, different locals jumped behind different candidates. But the 17,000 member Nevada chapter still remains undecided.

“We’re still trying to figure it out,” said SEIU Nevada political director Morgan Levi in an interview in her Las Vegas headquarters. “Truth is, we never really expected the endorsement to be left up to state chapters and we’re still working on it.”

Meanwhile, SEIU officials say they are being peppered by constant and growing demands from their Nevada Democratic political allies who have already signed onto rival campaigns. “There’s all these people calling us everyday,” said one union official. “We just feel totally bombarded and pressured to make a decision as everyone knows just how much we have to offer in terms of support.”