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Democratic presidential rivals take contest to court, debate and voting booth

    LAS VEGAS — Democratic presidential rivals and their supporters vied for advantage in the courts, on a debate stage and at the ballot box on Tuesday in an unsettled race for the party’s nomination to the White House.
    The debate lineup included Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois as well as former Sen. John Edwards and — by a judge’s order — Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
    The day’s only primary, however, promised little or nothing of consequence, an election in Michigan that state party officials insisted on holding earlier in the campaign than the Democratic National Committee wanted.
    The result was a primary that drew no campaigning from the major contenders and offered no delegates to the winner. Alone among the major contenders, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name was on the ballot, and her biggest concern appeared to be from supporters of John Edwards and Barack Obama pushing for a large vote for ‘‘uncommitted’’ to embarrass her.
    The court case was in Nevada, where a few of Clinton’s supporters sought to force a change in groundrules for next Saturday’s caucuses.
    Their objective was to prevent several caucuses along the Las Vegas strip, where thousands of Culinary Workers Union employees — many of them Hispanic or black — hold jobs.
    The rules were approved in March, when the former first lady was the overwhelming national front-runner in the race. But the union voted to endorse Obama last week, and the lawsuit followed.
    The courts also figured in an evening debate in Nevada, where a state judge said Kucinich must have a place on the stage. Otherwise, Clark County District Court Judge Charles Thompson said he would issue an injunction canceling the event.
    ‘‘I can just say, ‘Thank God for that judge,’ and hopefully his ruling will be sustained,’’ the Cleveland congressman told reporters as he left Ohio on Tuesday for Nevada.
    Kucinich said he has advocated positions his opponents have not on issues like the Iraq war, trade and health care. ‘‘So my being there creates a debate,’’ he said.
    MSNBC, with plans to televise the debate on cable television, had decided to exclude Kucinich after his poor performances in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Jeremy Gaines, a vice president for MSNBC, said the network would appeal the ruling.
    ———
    Associated Press writer David Espo reported from Washington.

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