Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed a half-dozen insurgent candidates in upcoming primaries, backing state Rep. Charles Booker over national Democrats’ preferred candidate to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and boosting two challengers running against incumbent House Democrats.
The string of endorsements on Tuesday represents Sanders’ highest profile support for liberal candidates in down-ballot races since he exited the presidential race this spring and is an enormous boost for the candidates seeking momentum in the closing weeks before the summer primaries.
Sanders’ announcement also puts the Vermont independent at odds with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and positions him against two prominent House Democrats: Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“One of the ways we must continue building that movement is by electing progressives at all levels of government,” Sanders said in a Medium post announcing the endorsements. “Because the truth is, real change never happens from the top on down. It happens from the bottom on up.”
Sanders’ post included a link to a fundraising page for the six candidates and a tweet announcing the endorsements. He also sent an email to the fundraising list that powered his presidential campaign.
Sanders backed Booker, a first-term state representative, in the Kentucky Senate race against McConnell ahead of the June 23 primary. Booker is running on a platform that includes “Medicare for All” and the “Green New Deal,” and is challenging Amy McGrath, who has been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The African American lawmaker endorsed Sanders in the presidential primary, while McGrath backed former Vice President Joe Biden.
McGrath has raised record sums for her campaign and massively outspent Booker and other candidates on TV throughout the campaign, largely focusing on McConnell and sidestepping the primary. But Booker has already received support from a number of Democrats in Kentucky, including more than a dozen elected officials, and his campaign has seen a boost in fundraising in the past week amid protests over police brutality. He launched his campaign’s first major TV advertising this week, saying Kentucky needs a “real Democrat” in the Senate race.
“These endorsements are further proof that our vision to end poverty, lead on structural change, and uplift all people is the right message at the right time,” said Booker, who was also endorsed Tuesday by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in a statement.
Sanders also endorsed Jamaal Bowman, who is challenging Engel in New York, and Cori Bush, a nurse and activist running for the second straight cycle against Clay, who defeated her by 20 percentage points in 2018. He has previously expressed support for Bush, who was a surrogate for his presidential campaign.
Sanders’ endorsement of Bowman comes less than a week after Ocasio-Cortez, who represents a neighboring district, backed his bid against Engel. Like Kentucky, New York is holding primaries on June 23.
Bowman is running to the left of Engel, attempting to portray the 16-term congressman as out of touch with his constituents. A recent hot-mic gaffe and questions about Engel’s home outside the district are creating uncomfortable questions for the incumbent.
Thus far this year, Sanders’ endorsed primary challengers are 1-for-2 against Democratic incumbents: Rep. Henry Cuellar held off Jessica Cisneros in Texas, while Marie Newman ousted Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois.
Sanders also endorsed two liberal candidates running in open-seat primaries in New York: Samelys López to replace retiring Rep. José Serrano in the Bronx; and Mondaire Jones, who is running to replace retiring Rep. Nita Lowey in the lower Hudson Valley.
In Texas, Sanders backed Mike Siegel in a Democratic primary runoff next month for an increasingly competitive district held by GOP Rep. Michael McCaul. Siegel, the only white candidate Sanders endorsed on Tuesday, finished first in the March primary but failed to win a majority of the vote, prompted a runoff with physician Pritesh Gandhi, the second-place candidate.
Siegel lost to McCaul by 4 points in the 2018 midterms, a closer-than-expected finish.
Max Cohen contributed to this report.