SACRAMENTO — Heading into the California Democratic Party convention this weekend, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton scored a plum Wednesday, securing the endorsement of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

Nunez, one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, said he was moved by Clinton's breadth of experience and her ability to set aside partisanship to get things done. He has signed on as a national co-chair of her campaign.

"The day she gets elected president, she's going to be able to hit the ground running, Day 1," Nunez said. "I'm very proud of endorsing Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States."

Clinton, the junior senator from New York and former First Lady, lauded Nunez's accomplishments on curbing global warming, raising the minimum wage and reducing prescription drug prices.

"His judgment about what we need to do together to solve the problems facing this country is right in line with my own," Clinton said during a conference call that was marred by technical difficulties. She said she would rely on Nunez's "advice and guidance" in California and elsewhere.

Nunez took care to praise the whole Democratic presidential field, including Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Both Obama and Edwards had asked for the speaker's support; Nunez said he called them before announcing that Clinton was his pick.

The speaker is one of the state's most prominent Mexican-American elected leaders.


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Questioned about why he did not support Richardson, a fellow Latino, Nunez said he based his decision on a candidate's experience, not ethnicity.

A charismatic figure who speaks Spanish fluently, Nunez presumably could help Clinton reach out to Latino voters, who are a force in Democratic politics. He also has considerable contacts and clout in Los Angeles. Before joining the Assembly, Nunez served as political director for the powerful Los Angeles County Labor Federation. And he enjoys a strong friendship with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Nunez said he would not seek Clinton's support for an effort to rewrite the state's term limits law. That issue is "internal to California." And he dismissed the suggestion that Clinton would repay him with an administration appointment.

Along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland, Nunez championed moving up California's presidential primary to Feb. 5, 2008, to boost the state's political sway.

Contact Kate Folmar at kfolmar@mercurynews.com or (916) 441-4601.