Sanders promoting new blood in Democrats but impact unclear
OMAHA, Nebraska — Bernie Sanders, who attracted millions of collegeage and young adults to his presidential campaign last year, is following through on a promise he made when he left the race: to promote younger leaders for the Democratic Party.
Itmay not seem themost likely role for the slightly stooped, white-haired, 75year-old Vermont senator. But Sanders was rallying support Thursday for Omaha’s Democratic mayoral candidate Heath Mello, who’s half his age.
While the Democratic Party searches for a path back to power around the country, Sanders is using his popularity to draw thousands at events to promote next-generation Democrats, though his effectiveness so far is unclear. He’s on an eight-state circuit of rallies with Democratic National Committee leaders, visiting states Trump carried in the November election.
“We need to transform the Democratic Party,” Sanders said in Louisville’s packed Palace Theater while headlining a Democratic Party rally in Kentucky on Tuesday. “We need to open the doors of the Democratic Party to working people and to young people.”
Most of the 17 candidates Sanders’ political action committee has endorsed this year, including Mello, are in their 30s and 40s and generally reflect Sanders’ call for newer faces in a variety of political positions.
Someare direct products of the Sanders campaign, such as Khalid Kamau, who was elected to the South Fulton, Ga., City Council on Tuesday. The 40-year-old Atlanta-area activist in the Black Lives Matter movement volunteered for Sanders’ cam- paign last year.
Others reflect Sanders’ challenge to the party establishment, such as Tom Pierrello of Virginia. The 43-year-old former U.S. Housememberand adviser to President Barack Obama is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor against Virginia Lt. Gov. RalphNortham.
But Sanders is using his popularity with younger Democrats chiefly to inspire, rather than directly recruit, the younger faces he says the party needs.
It’s a tricky dance for Sanders, an independent who doesn’t call himself a Democrat — rather, a democratic socialist — but sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination and aligns with the Democrats in the Senate.
Still, Sanders’ call for tax-supported free college tuition and his indictment of the political influence of the wealthy drew millions of younger voters during last year’s campaign.
In the primaries and caucuses he captured 70 percent of the 30-andyounger vote, and those 2 million votes far exceeded the combined totals in that age group for Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Among Democratic primary voters alone, Sanders won a solid majority of support fromvoters 45 and younger.
“Just seeing him inspires people,” said Shannon Jackson, executive director of Sanders’ PAC. “Where he draws such numbers of people, they are inspired by his message.”
On Tuesday, Sanders brought many of the roughly 2,800 in Louisville to their feet by reprising key lines from his 2016 campaign, including: “Our job is to take on the moneyed interests. Andthe only way Iknowas tohowwedo that is by bringing millions of people into the political process, with a newborn understanding that we have got to get involved.”
It takes more than being a younger Democrat for a candidate to gain Sanders’ support. His political action committee decided against endorsing 30-yearold Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former congressional staffer who qualified Tuesday for a June 20 runoff House election after raising more than $8 million in mostly out-of-state contributions.
Sanders did endorse and campaign for 46-year-old Democrat James Thompson, a civil rights lawyer, ahead of his closer-thanexpected, losing effort in a special U.S. House election in Kansas last week. Thompsonraised a fraction of Ossoff’s haul, and in smaller contributions, a hallmark of Sanders’ own campaign.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Grand Prairie, Texas, during a tour of eight states Donald Trump won in November.