Bernie Sanders was overdue for a day like Thursday.
Flagging in national polls, stuck behind Hillary Clinton in Iowa, struggling to grab headlines, and laboring under the perception that he refuses to talk about ISIS, the Vermont senator’s campaign was stuck in an unmistakable rut heading into Saturday’s Democratic debate.
Then came Thursday. First, the campaign announced it had collected more than 2 million contributions— a sign of Sanders’ popularity among small donors — raising $3 million since Monday alone. Then Sanders formally picked up his biggest labor endorsement, smiling alongside the leadership of the Communications Workers of America in Washington. At noon, the biggest news yet: million-member liberal group Democracy For America — founded by close Clinton ally and surrogate Howard Dean — was throwing its support behind Sanders in its first-ever presidential endorsement.
“Last night, when we went over 2 million people, it was an indication that we are ready, and able, to truly fund a real, national race,” a fired-up Tad Devine, Sanders’ top strategist, told POLITICO Thursday afternoon, previewing an uptick in campaign activity all over the country within the next few weeks after Thursday’s public spark of momentum. “Today is an indication that there are a lot of people in the left wing of the Democratic Party that think we are doing the right things to win, to achieve the agenda they’re committed to.”
It’s not exactly a turning point. Clinton continues to be the dominating front-runner, armed with the majority of establishment and union endorsements, not to mention an unparalleled fundraising machine. The former secretary of state has backing for unions representing more than 10 million of the 14.6 million union members in the country. And Sanders has been under the gun recently, publicly griping about his lack of mainstream news coverage while insisting that he is willing to talk about issues aside from income inequality after his press secretary warned reporters not to ask about ISIS during a trip to Baltimore this month.
But, said an energized Sanders on Thursday, “I think what we are seeing is a lot of grass-roots support in union after union throughout this country. That support has not necessarily trickled up to leadership.”
“What I would have hoped is that unions who believe in democracy would have done what the CWA has, really created a wide-open process,” the Vermonter added, despite internal data from some unions showing that their membership backs Clinton. “Now, maybe we’d win. Maybe we wouldn’t win. I don’t know. But I think we would have won a lot more national union support. … And, by the way, I think we’re going to win more national unions.”
The burst of life for the underdog’s campaign comes just as voters will tune back into the Democratic race with Saturday’s debate in New Hampshire, his team believes, which could help him in the organizing department. After he won 88 percent of the over 270,000 votes in the online membership poll of DFA — which had helped stoke the pro-Elizabeth Warren movement in early 2015 — the group’s executive director pledged to help Sanders with grass-roots support in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Sanders’ 88 percent result in that group’s survey topped Clinton’s 10 percent and the 1 percent for both Martin O’Malley and the option not to endorse at all, like the Vermont-based group has done in previous cycles.
“This isn’t the first time DFA has stood side-by-side with Bernie Sanders. Our organization has been working with him to make progressive change happen for years,” wrote Chamberlain in a letter to members, announcing the results after all three candidates wrote the group asking for support in recent weeks. “Together, we’ve run issue campaigns focused on raising the minimum wage, overturning Citizens United, and stopping the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership — and he has regularly chatted with our members on several DFA Live conference calls over the years.”
“With today’s endorsement, DFA members are joining Bernie’s ‘political revolution’ and working to take it both to the White House and up-and-down the ballot, in races coast to coast,” he added in a statement.
Plus, Devine was quick to note, the senator’s fundraising prowess — which has surprised the Clinton camp and leading Democrats — has far outstripped the expected levels for the insurgent campaign. Receiving 2 million contributions so quickly, he said, outpaces even President Barack Obama in 2012.
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