WASHINGTON – It was a good day for Bernie Sanders -- and it came just when he needed one.
In a string of victories Thursday morning for the insurgent Democratic presidential candidate, Sanders announced that his campaign had hit its goal of receiving 2 million individual campaign contributions, picked up the endorsement of the 700,000-member strong Communications Worker of America and earned a nod from the liberal group Democracy for America.
It's a much needed boost for a candidate whose campaign's momentum seemed to stall a bit lately, and it comes just two days before the party's next presidential debate in the crucial state of New Hampshire.
Introducing Sanders at a joint press conference at the union's headquarters here as “the next president of the United States,” CWA President Chris Shelton said the union decided to back Sanders only after its members had made their preference overwhelmingly clear in an online poll.
“The executive board stayed out of this, we did not want to influence what our members decided, they decided this on their own,” Shelton said. “This is absolutely a democratically come to decision.”
Sanders has lost out on endorsements from a string of other major unions, who sided instead with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. But Sanders and Shelton suggested that the leadership of the unions might be out of step with their membership.
“What we are seeing is a lot of grassroots support in union after union throughout this country, but that support has not necessarily trickled up to the leadership,” Sanders said.
“I can’t tell you what every member of the AFT or the NEA believes,” he said, referring to two major teachers unions that backed Clinton. “So the answer is, what I would have hoped is that unions who believe in democracy would have done what the CWA did, which was to really bring a wide open process ... I think we would have won a lot more union support than is currently the case.”
It’s a complaint common among Sanders supporters in the labor movement.
“I believe that’s the way it should be done because I think an endorsement coming from me or our executive board alone would have been an empty endorsement,” added Shelton of his union's process.
The unusual process did not include the executive board interviews common in other unions, though CWA officials did interview the candidates when they appeared at the AFL-CIO’s summer meeting this year. CWA's immediate past president Larry Cohen, joined Sanders' campaign as a advisor shortly after stepping down this summer.
Clinton is still ahead when it comes to organized labor, however, with 18 national labor unions and alliances in her column.
“Hillary Clinton is humbled to have such tremendous support from labor unions who represent a diverse coalition of millions of hardworking union men and women across the country. She shares their commitment to fighting for an economy that works for every single American, not just those at the top,” said Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson Thursday.
Sanders, who has sworn off super PACs, has faced questions over spending on his behalf from a super PAC affiliated with a nurses union that endorsed him. CWA has it’s own super PAC and Shelton did not rule out using it to support Sanders. “Bernie doesn’t want to it take it – OK, I respect that," he said. "We’ll do everything I can to get the vote out to make sure he’s the next president."
Sanders said comparing a super PAC funded by wealthy donors to one funded by union dues is a “false comparison.”
The endorsement came the same day as Sanders’ campaign announced they had received 2 individual contributions, more than any non-incumbent presidential candidate in history. Just 261 of the campaign’s donors given the legal maximum contribution of $2,700, the campaign touted. “You can’t level the playing field with Wall Street banks and billionaires by taking their money,” Sanders says in new TV advertisement touting the number.
And shortly after Sanders left CWA, Democracy for America, the liberal organizing group that grew out of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, threw its support behind Sanders. (Dean has personally endorsed Clinton.) DFA's move was no major surprise, since the group tried to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the 2016 race, but it said nearly 90% of the members picked Sanders as their top choice.
“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," said DFA executive director Charles Chamberlain.
Clinton has left few major endorsements still on the table after locking down support from huge swaths of Congress and among state elected officials in key states across the country, but allies say that's fine with them.
Last week, the Vermont senator also earned the backing of the Working Families Party, a labor-backed liberal group and political party that started in New York and has since expanded to nine other states. "The political revolution Bernie Sanders has called for is already starting to take shape. Young people and grassroots activists are volunteering in droves for Senator Sanders. Now, important progressive groups are adding their voices. Combined, those are the ingredients of a winning campaign," said Working Families Party national director Dan Cantor Thursday.