Bernie Sanders received his first endorsement from a sitting U.S. Senator Wednesday morning, boosting his chances in the tough nomination battle he faces against fellow Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Jeff Merkley, the junior senator from Oregon, called Sanders “a determined leader” in an op-ed he wrote in the New York Times.
“No decision we make as Americans more dramatically affects the direction of our country than our choice for president. He or she is more than the manager of the executive branch, commander in chief or appointer of judges. The president reflects, but also helps define, our national values, priorities and direction.
“After considering the biggest challenges facing our nation and the future I want for my children and our country, I have decided to become the first member of the Senate to support my colleague Bernie Sanders for president.”
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 13, 2016
Charting out his own personal history of growing up in a working class neighborhood in Oregon, Merkley wrote that while America is more wealthy than it was 40 years ago, the problem is that “our economy, both by accident and design, has become rigged to make a fortunate few very well off while leaving most Americans struggling to keep up.”
Arguing that working and middle-class Americans today are working longer hours for less income, Merkley wrote that healthcare, tuition, and other costs have relentlessly pushed higher over the course of the last few decades.
This has not only led to the concentration of economic power in the hands of the few, but also political power.
“Special interests, aided by their political and judicial allies, have exercised an ever-tighter grip on our political system, from the rise of unlimited, secret campaign spending to a voter suppression movement,” Merkley wrote.
To this end, the senator argued, the need of the hour is to “rethink” and restructure American politics and economy. While Merkley wrote that Hillary Clinton would make a “strong and capable” president, it is Bernie Sanders who would take on the challenges facing the economy in a more direct and fearless way. “Bernie Sanders is boldly and fiercely addressing the biggest challenges facing our country,” he wrote in support of the Vermont senator.
Moreover, according to Merkley, Sanders is working harder than any other candidate to make his priorities clear in the race for the presidency. By opposing trade deals with countries that pay their workers significantly lower than what workers are paid in America, and by recognizing the effects of climate change, Merkey argued that Bernie Sanders has proved himself “a determined leader” whose campaign has taken on the “concentration of campaign cash from the mega-wealthy.”
“People know that we don’t just need better policies, we need a wholesale rethinking of how our economy and our politics work, and for whom they work.”
Jeff Merkley’s endorsement will come as a huge boost to Bernie Sanders as he prepares to tackle Hillary Clinton in next week’s New York primary. While Sanders has consistently been endorsed by artists, trade unionists, and media organizations over the course of the last few months, this is his first endorsement from a sitting U.S. Senator, giving weight to his argument that Democratic party representatives and elected officials — superdelegates — will begin to tilt in his favor if he can convince them with a commanding performance in the state primaries and caucuses.
With Bernie Sanders having won seven out of the last eight contests against Hillary Clinton, the timing of Jeff Merkley’s endorsement couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time for the Vermont senator. Not only does it help prove that Sanders can persuade Democratic party officials to switch to his side by winning more pledged candidates, but coming a week before New York’s primary, it could prove a crucial ingredient if Sanders is to surprise Clinton with a domineering performance in the state.
But perhaps most importantly, Merkley’s endorsement could pave the way for more endorsements for Bernie Sanders in the near future. While previously Democratic senators doubted the longevity of Sanders’ campaign, with many predicting that it would fizzle away long before the Democratic convention, his late surge could give confidence to more party and elected officials to announce their support for Bernie Sanders in explicit terms.
In the meantime, however, Bernie can be pleased with the fact that even senators have finally started to “feel the Bern.”
[Photo by Kenneth Gabrielsen/Getty Images]