San­ders’ en­dorse­ment tests his clout but blind­sides Democrats

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Sen. Bernard San­ders en­dorsed a lib­eral for­mer con­gress­man in Vir­ginia’s gov­er­nor’s race Mon­day, mark­ing the first ma­jor foray for Democrats’ 2016 up­start pres­i­den­tial can­di­date as he seeks to ex­tend his po­lit­i­cal reach, test­ing his clout in one of the coun­try’s new­est blue states.

But Mr. San­ders’ de­ci­sion to back Tom Per­riello blind­sided some prom­i­nent Democrats and fed the sense that the race is now a front in the bat­tle be­tween pro­gres­sives, rep­re­sented by Mr. Per­riello and Mr. San­ders, and cen­trists, rep­re­sented by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

“We need pro­gres­sive voices at the statewide level, and I think that Tom is that kind of pro­gres­sive,” Mr. San­ders told The Wash­ing­ton Times on Tues­day. “I think we need to bring work­ing peo­ple to­gether to stand up against the Trump agenda, which is clearly a mas­sive at­tack on work­ing fam­i­lies, and I think Tom can pro­vide that lead­er­ship.”

Asked whether he plans to cam­paign with Mr. Per­riello, Mr. San­ders said, “If he thinks I can be help­ful and my time al­lows I would be happy to cam­paign with him.”

Mr. Per­riello blasted out a morn­ing fundrais­ing email tout­ing the San­ders en­dorse­ment as proof that he is “draw­ing sup­port from across the en­tire pro­gres­sive move­ment” and fol­lowed that up with a news re­lease an­nounc­ing that they would ap­pear to­gether at a rally Thurs­day at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity.

But Mr. San­ders’ de­ci­sion to plant his flag in Vir­ginia left some miffed.

“Loved the cour­tesy heads up,” Mr. Warner said, sig­nal­ing the San­ders news caught him off guard.

Mr. Northam’s cam­paign ob­jected to Mr. San­ders’ dis­count­ing the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor as a pro­gres­sive force.

“He has led the fight to ban smok­ing in restau­rants, to pre­vent the transvagi­nal ul­tra­sound man­date and to push for stronger gun safety leg­is­la­tion,” said David Turner, a Northam spokesman, adding that his boss is also fo­cused on ex­pand­ing Med­i­caid un­der Oba­macare.

Mr. Warner said Mr. Northam should not be seen as an es­tab­lish­ment can­di­date.

“I don’t think that is the case,” he said. “I think you have got in Ralph Northam some­body who has got a pro­gres­sive record. I think Tom has brought a lot of en­ergy to the race, but it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how it plays out.”

Mr. Warner has en­dorsed Mr. Northam, as has Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Tim Kaine.

All of them were back­ers last year of Hil­lary Clin­ton in the Demo­cratic pri­mary. Mr. Kaine even served as her vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

Mrs. Clin­ton won Vir­ginia’s Demo­cratic pri­mary en route to de­feat­ing Mr. San­ders for the party’s pres­i­den­tial nod.

Vir­ginia ended up vot­ing for Mrs. Clin­ton in the gen­eral elec­tion as well, mark­ing the third straight pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that the state has gone blue — a re­ver­sal from the pre­vi­ous five decades, when it was the most re­li­able Repub­li­can state in the na­tion.

In the af­ter­math of the elec­tion, though, Mr. San­ders has emerged as ar­guably the most pop­u­lar elected Demo­crat in the coun­try among the pro­gres­sive ac­tivists who are driv­ing the party’s agenda.

He has left the door open to run­ning for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2020 and has pushed his party to tilt more to the left in Wash­ing­ton and in the states.

Mr. San­ders has not taken sides in spe­cial con­gres­sional elec­tions play­ing out in Ge­or­gia, South Carolina and Mon­tana, and also stayed out of Tues­day’s spe­cial elec­tion in Cal­i­for­nia’s 34th Con­gres­sional District, where 24 can­di­dates — in­clud­ing three who cast them­selves as San­ders acolytes — were run­ning for an empty seat.

A spokesman for Mr. San­ders said his boss doesn’t have any more en­dorse­ments lined up but that could change as the elec­tion cy­cle moves for­ward.

Quentin Kidd, di­rec­tor of the Wa­son Cen­ter for Pub­lic Pol­icy at Christo­pher New­port Univer­sity, said the race in Vir­ginia is tai­lor-made for Mr. San­ders to get in­volved.

“While there is a lot of at­ten­tion on the spe­cial con­gres­sional races, they are prob­a­bly not set up as well as Vir­ginia’s is in the sense that you have what in my mind is a pretty clear es­tab­lish­ment Demo­crat and what is clear in my mind is pro­gres­sive Demo­crat,” Mr. Kidd said.

He said Vir­ginia is also likely to dom­i­nate po­lit­i­cal head­lines from the June pri­maries to the Novem­ber elec­tion, so Mr. San­ders is get­ting a good re­turn on his in­vest­ment of po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal.

The Wa­son Cen­ter for Pub­lic Pol­icy re­leased a poll last week that showed Mr. Per­riello and Mr. Northam dead-even in the race. Both re­ceive sup­port from 26 per­cent of reg­is­tered Vir­ginia Demo­cratic vot­ers, with a whop­ping 45 per­cent of the re­spon­dents still up for grabs.

The sur­vey also showed that Mr. Northam held a 9 per­cent­age point lead among vot­ers who sup­ported Mrs. Clin­ton in the Vir­ginia pri­mary last year and Mr. Per­riello held an 11 per­cent­age point lead among San­ders vot­ers.

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