Hillary Clinton Is Alone at the Top of Democratic 2016 Hill Endorsements

Members say they’ve heard little from Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, even as Clinton has gotten nods from their home states.

National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
June 2, 2015, 4 p.m.

Hillary Clinton has racked up a slew of congressional endorsements in her presidential bid. Her rivals either can’t compete on the Hill or are only doing so quietly.

Clinton‘s endorsement tally already stands at triple digits—nearly half of all sitting Democrats. But lawmakers say they’ve heard little outreach from Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, Clinton’s underdog rivals to lead Democrats’ 2016 ticket.

Even the group that provides the underdogs’ best chance at winning allies says the phone has stayed firmly on the hook: Both Sanders and O’Malley are running to Clinton’s left, but the Congressional Progressive Caucus says it has heard no calls for support from either candidate. Instead, caucus cochair Raul Grijalva said last year that he was happy so support Hillary Clinton (his office has said that’s not an official endorsement) and fellow liberals like Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Jan Schakowsky have endorsed the front-runner as well.

While members say they would welcome the chance to hear from presidential hopefuls, it appears those candidates have decided the road to the nomination doesn’t run through the Beltway—at least yet. “We’ve certainly had opportunities in the past to have some of those declared candidates come before us,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Xavier Becerra, citing an O’Malley appearance on the Hill last year. “Certainly this caucus will invite any declared candidate for president to come before us and address the caucus members, because the members are very interested.”

Haley Morris, a spokeswoman for O’Malley, said his team has already started a thorough outreach campaign. But when it comes to Washington Democrats backing Clinton, she said, O’Malley is “not worried about establishment backing establishment.”

Observers say there could be several reasons for the quiet on Capitol Hill. First, at this early stage in the race, candidates are far more focused on fundraising and building a ground game than getting members of Congress on board. “I haven’t really seen any [outreach] at all,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland. “There will probably be more action here when the primaries start coming up.”

Ruppersberger, who has not yet made an endorsement, cited his close ties to both Clinton and O’Malley as his reason for staying out of the primary so far.

Meanwhile, the candidates likely realize that Congress, too, has its focus elsewhere right now. “This is appropriations season,” laughed Ruppersberger. And eight months out from Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus, most members are unlikely to get behind a candidate who has yet to challenge Clinton in the polls.

But even with many members in wait-and-see mode, Clinton’s challengers have already seen many of their potential allies back the front-runner—including in the home states of Clinton’s rivals.

In O’Malley’s home state of Maryland, with its clout-heavy congressional delegation, Clinton has earned several high-profile endorsements: Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, both Marylanders, have endorsed Clinton. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin back Clinton as well.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont has endorsed Clinton, leaving undecided Rep. Peter Welch as Sanders’ only remaining home-state endorsement opportunity. Meanwhile, the entrance of former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee into the race hasn’t stopped half a dozen Virginia and Rhode Island members from backing Clinton over their long-shot contenders back home.

Of course, no congressional endorsement will change Clinton’s status as the favorite, and her challengers may be content to watch her rack up Capitol Hill endorsements as they paint her as a creature of the Washington establishment. While O’Malley will tout his state executive experience, Sanders—an independent and self-described socialist—will likely have little trouble distancing himself from the other candidates.

In 2008, Clinton earned 77 congressional endorsements to President Obama’s 33 before the Iowa caucuses, according to a George Washington University Democracy in Action analysis. Obama, running as the outsider, still pulled off the victory. If O’Malley, Sanders, or another candidate hope to replicate his rise, they’ll likely have to do it with an even greater endorsement deficit—and none of them seem particularly bothered by that.

Sanders’ campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

This story has been updated to clarify Grijvalva’s position on Clinton.

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