Thursday brought brand new hard evidence that liberals are lining up en masse behind Bernard Sanders in the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential primary, rejecting establishment candidate Hillary Clinton and instead opting for the so-called “revolution” they believe the Vermont senator brings to the table.
The powerful liberal PAC Democracy for America (DFA), founded by progressive hero and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, on Thursday offered the first presidential endorsement in its 10-year history. Relying on a poll of its 1 million members, the organization said it will back Mr. Sanders and will unleash its grass-roots “army” to make phone calls, fundraise and knock on doors for the senator.
Ironically, Mr. Dean earlier this year offered his personal support to Mrs. Clinton, though that endorsement clearly did not reflect the will of DFA members.
For Mrs. Clinton, who has tried to appeal to progressives with a message that increasingly has focused on income equality and other issues deeply important to liberal voters, Thursday’s news was especially bleak. Nearly 88 percent of DFA members voted for Mr. Sanders.
Mrs. Clinton received just 10.3 percent, while former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley barely cracked 1 percent.
Mr. Sanders’ overwhelming win comes at a crucial time in the race, with the Iowa caucuses just six weeks away. DFA officials say the group will be active in Iowa and other early states and will be working on behalf of Mr. Sanders.
“Bernie Sanders is an unyielding populist progressive who decisively won Democracy for America members’ first presidential primary endorsement because of his lifelong commitment to taking on income inequality and the wealthy and powerful interests who are responsible for it,” DFA Executive Director Charles Chamberlain said in a statement. “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.”
For Mr. Sanders, Thursday also brought news that his campaign surpassed the 2-million donations mark, underscoring the grass-roots appeal of his candidacy. The candidate has sworn off Super PACs and frequently rails against the rich and powerful. He said organizations such as DFA will be crucial to his campaign.
“DFA’s tireless focus on bringing people together through grass-roots organizing is the best way we can fight back against the billionaires who have rigged our economy,” he said in a statement.
By contrast, Mrs. Clinton this week attended a fundraiser and campaign rally alongside billionaire investor Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in America. Mr. Buffett said he’d be “delighted” to see Mrs. Clinton in the Oval Office.
While Mrs. Clinton, who remains the party’s clear front-runner, has spoken at length about the need to address income inequality, she also hasn’t cut ties with the wealthy as Mr. Sanders has.
“I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving and the successful,” she said at Wednesday’s campaign rally.
The Clinton campaign did not respond for requests for comment on the DFA poll.
As for Mr. O’Malley, the poll and DFA’s subsequent endorsement seem to prove that his attempts to be the left-wing alternative to Mrs. Clinton have been unsuccessful. Just this week, he again tried to make the case to liberal voters that he’s the best choice while also taking shots at Mr. Sanders, a self-described socialist.
“One of the distinguishing factors among the three of us as candidates — in terms of our experience — is that while the other two have talked about things they wanted to get done, I’ve actually gotten these things done,” he told The Nation, referring to his eight years as governor of Maryland before turning his attention to Mr. Sanders.
“I don’t think that to fix capitalism you need to replace it with socialism. I believe that, actually, American capitalism can work,” he added.
DFA leaders said they greatly respect Mr. O’Malley but don’t believe he’s as capable as Mr. Sanders at shaking up Washington.
“Martin O’Malley had been fantastic as governor … and I think he’s running a really solid, good presidential campaign,” Mr. Chamberlain told reporters on a conference call. “But the bottom line is he isn’t the insurgent candidate that Bernie Sanders is.”
The O’Malley campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the DFA poll and the governor’s performance in it.