Early-State House Hopefuls Feel the Bern

Underdog congressional candidates in early presidential nominating states are getting a boost from their endorsements of Bernie Sanders.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stands with his wife, Jane, and waves to the crowd during a campaign rally at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa on Sunday.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Ally Mutnick
Add to Briefcase
Ally Mutnick
Feb. 1, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

When a polit­ic­al neo­phyte runs in a House primary against the party’s pre­vi­ous nom­in­ee and 2014 lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor nom­in­ee, it can be hard to break through.

But in­tro­du­cing Bernie Sanders to hun­dreds of po­ten­tial voters does provide an open­ing.

That’s the kind of up­grade former Sat­urday Night Live cast mem­ber Gary Kroeger has re­ceived in Iowa’s 1st Dis­trict since he pub­licly en­dorsed the sen­at­or from Ver­mont and self-pro­claimed Demo­crat­ic so­cial­ist for pres­id­ent in Oc­to­ber.

“The crowd that comes to see Sen­at­or Sanders I know is a friendly crowd to me,” Kroeger said. “I’d thought I’d be in the back of a Chuck E. Cheese in a room of a few act­iv­ists and that’s the most you’d get out of a primary.”

In­stead, Kroeger has opened for Sanders at four events, each with hun­dreds in at­tend­ance, in­clud­ing the Sanders cam­paign rally be­fore the Jef­fer­son-Jack­son Din­ner and a “Rockin’ the Bern” con­cert in Iowa City.

He’s not alone. A hand­ful of con­gres­sion­al can­did­ates have thrown their sup­port be­hind Sanders and found their cam­paigns buoyed by small dona­tions, vo­lun­teers, and so­cial-me­dia buzz.

And Kroeger is part of an even smal­ler group of Demo­crat­ic hope­fuls run­ning in com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts in early-primary states who hope to take ad­vant­age of Sanders’s ground game and fre­quent cam­paign stops in their dis­tricts.

In some ways, Sanders’s un­der­dog fight to over­take the es­tab­lish­ment front-run­ner, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton, is a nar­rat­ive that could also frame these loc­al races in Iowa, New Hamp­shire, and Nevada, where the can­did­ates trail op­pon­ents in money, polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence, or name re­cog­ni­tion.

In New Hamp­shire, busi­ness­man Shawn O’Con­nor en­dorsed and went on a two-day, five-stop tour with Sanders in early Janu­ary. In Nevada, former state As­semb­ly­wo­man Lucy Flores, who garnered na­tion­al at­ten­tion after back­ing Sanders last month in a Face­book post, has since ap­peared at events hos­ted by the Sanders cam­paign, in­clud­ing a roundtable, an of­fice open­ing and a mock caucus event.

“Cam­paign­ing with a pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate—it’s a pretty smart move. You get ac­cess to thou­sands of people,” said John Row­ley, a vet­er­an Demo­crat­ic me­dia con­sult­ant. “That be­comes ex­pos­ure and es­sen­tially free com­mu­nic­a­tion with voters, and I can def­in­itely see that that could have an im­pact. I don’t think it’s a game changer, but it’s prob­ably worth a few points.”

With Sanders lead­ing in New Hamp­shire and gain­ing on Clin­ton lead­ing up to Monday’s caucuses in Iowa, can­did­ates be­ne­fit from his in­creased mo­mentum.

O’Con­nor de­scribed an up­tick of 10- to 20 per­cent in both dona­tions and vo­lun­teers since he en­dorsed Sanders on Jan. 3. Kroeger said he re­ceived a “palp­able bump” in dona­tions and gathered a list of vo­lun­teers he’d met at Sanders ral­lies who are ready to be de­ployed. One vo­lun­teer he met at a rally in Des Moines offered to over­see his so­cial me­dia, us­ing the Sanders grass­roots net­work to grow his Twit­ter fol­low­ers to 1,500.

Since en­dors­ing Sanders, Flores has done a series of events or­gan­ized by the Sanders cam­paign in Nevada, and as the caucuses ap­proach, she said, she will likely cam­paign with Sanders him­self. The en­dorse­ment also gave Flores a boost in dona­tions and vo­lun­teers.

“Whenev­er I can try to hit two birds with one stone,” she said, “if it’s an event in my dis­trict and it hap­pens to also be a Bernie event, we’ll try to com­bine those where pos­sible. … It’s def­in­itely just made my days a little — maybe a lot — busier.”

Sanders’s grass­roots net­work is eager to lend sup­port to like-minded con­gres­sion­al can­did­ates who would sup­port the pro­gress­ive agenda of a Pres­id­ent Sanders.

An Act­Blue fun­drais­ing page has gathered just over $14,000 in dona­tions to split between House and Sen­ate can­did­ates who have en­dorsed Sanders, ur­ging sup­port­ers to “thank pro­gress­ive in­cum­bents and can­did­ates with the cour­age to en­dorse him.”

“People are ex­cited about the won­der­ful mo­mentum that he’s get­ting, but they’re real­iz­ing that he’s go­ing to need al­lies in the Con­gress,” O’Con­nor said of Sanders. “I think the coun­try is look­ing for a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­er­ship.”

The can­did­ates in­sist there was no polit­ic­al cal­cu­lus in the de­cision to en­dorse—though some sent out fun­drais­ing ap­peals play­ing up their sup­port of Sanders.

All three self-identi­fy as pro­gress­ives and align with Sanders’s po­s­i­tions on col­lege af­ford­ab­il­ity, edu­ca­tion, or in­come equal­ity. They de­scribe the en­dorse­ments as a way to define their cam­paigns.

Kroeger ac­know­ledges that he is a “dis­tant third” in his primary race against Ce­dar Rap­ids City Coun­cil­wo­man Mon­ica Ver­non and former state Rep. Pat Murphy. Murphy won the five-way primary battle for the 1st Dis­trict in 2014. Ver­non was the run­ning mate for state Sen. Jack Hatch in that year’s gubernat­ori­al race.

O’Con­nor, who de­scribes him­self as “anti­es­tab­lish­ment” and “anti-Wash­ing­ton,” has largely self-fun­ded against former three-term Rep. Car­ol Shea-Port­er. By the end of the third quarter, O’Con­nor had loaned his cam­paign $1 mil­lion. Shea-Port­er has en­dorsed Clin­ton.

There are bet­ter-po­si­tioned can­did­ates who have en­dorsed Sanders. In New York’s 19th dis­trict, 2014 gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate Zephyr Teachout backed Sanders in Decem­ber, be­fore launch­ing her bid last week for the seat of re­tir­ing Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Chris Gib­son. Plus, Reps. Keith El­lis­on of Min­nesota and Raúl Gri­jalva of Ari­zona are on Team Sanders, though neither faces a com­pet­it­ive reelec­tion.

En­dors­ing Sanders could help Flores the most, al­low­ing her to dis­tin­guish her­self in the four-way primary to chal­lenge Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Cresent Hardy. She’s put up the low­est fun­drais­ing num­bers so far com­pared to her com­pet­it­ors, in­clud­ing state Sen. Ruben Ki­huen.

But Nevada-based Demo­crat­ic polit­ic­al con­sult­ant Billy Vassili­adis said he doesn’t think the needle will be moved by the en­dorse­ment, which he sees as a tac­tic to cut in­to Ki­huen’s base of young­er voters.

“I think Lucy made a very cal­cu­lated and some­what des­per­ate de­cision, in that she’s not break­ing through any­where,” he said. “I think Bernie is a unique phe­nomen­on. I don’t think he’s got coat­tails.”

Flores denies any polit­ic­al motive to the en­dorse­ment and said she con­sidered it risky. Sanders does not lead Clin­ton in many polls in later primary states or na­tion­ally.

Sanders en­dorse­ments could po­ten­tially ali­en­ate sup­port­ers of Clin­ton, who re­mains favored for the nom­in­a­tion. Plus, down-bal­lot primar­ies of­ten take place months after early pres­id­en­tial primar­ies, and it can be hard to draw out the mo­mentum.

While Sanders is polling strongly in next week’s New Hamp­shire primary, the state’s con­gres­sion­al primar­ies won’t take place un­til mid-Septem­ber—two months after the na­tion­al con­ven­tions—po­ten­tially min­im­iz­ing the ef­fect of O’Con­nor’s pres­ence at Sanders events in Janu­ary.

And align­ing him­self with Sanders can’t make up for his lack of name re­cog­ni­tion com­pared to Shea-Port­er, said former Ports­mouth May­or Steve Marchand, a Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant.

“If you’re some­body like O’Con­nor who is an un­known per­son in a con­gres­sion­al race,” Marchand said, “they don’t know who he is and they don’t know who he en­dorsed. And by the time they would start think­ing about it, it’s just so far in the rear­view mir­ror.”

What We're Following See More »
WEDNESDAY?
Judiciary Committee Counteroffers on Ford Appearance
1 days ago
THE LATEST
THIS WILL NOT HELP
Trump Says Ford Should Have Filed Charges 36 Years Ago
1 days ago
THE LATEST
DOESN'T WANT TO BE NEAR KAVANAUGH
Ford Would Like to Testify on Thursday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault in the 1980s, is reportedly willing to publicly testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next Thursday. Lawyers for Ford told committee staffers during a call Thursday evening to negotiate details of a potential hearing that she wanted Kavanaugh to testify before her and she does not want to be in the same room as him, according to multiple reports."

Source:
PER LETTER TO JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
Kavanaugh WIll Testify Monday
2 days ago
THE LATEST
BUT CANCELLATION WILL NOT COME SOON
Grassley Says Hearing May Be Pushed Past Monday
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley said Wednesday a planned Monday hearing on sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would likely not go on without accuser Christine Blasey Ford," but said any decision to cancel would be made at the last minute.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login