The Working Families Party the labor-aligned progressive group whose electoral influences have grown since the 2016 election, has endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for the Democratic presidential nomination, and boon to her candidacy as she attempts to position Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The party endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont during the last presidential cycle, at which time he described Working Families as the "closest thing" to "my vision of democratic socialism." Warren on Monday, one of the few by a prominent progressive organization this early in the primary, is sure to turn heads among left-leaning Democrats who are desperate to defeat the current front-runner, Mr. Biden, in a primary election where their party's ideological future is at stake.
Mr. Mitchell brushed off the possibility that the group's endorsement would be seen as a sign of a splintering of the progressive left. The vote among “tens of thousands” of party members found in a commanding majority for Ms. Warren, a party spokesman said; she received more than 60 percent of the votes on the first ballot.
“Choosing not to make a decision because of the risk or fear of backlash is an abdication of our responsibility, and I'm not willing to do that,” Mr . Mitchell said.
The endorsement comes as the Warren and Sanders campaigns are coming off a divergent 48 hours. Mr. Sanders's campaign shook up her New Hampshire staff over the weekend as Ms. Warren continues to make inroads among the party's progressive base. Ms. Warren's debate performance last week was generally well received, and she is preparing for a New York City rally on Monday that could be among the largest gatherings for any candidate this cycle.
Also on Monday, Ms. Warren unveiled a plan to combat corruption in government, a core theme of her presidential campaign. The plan is based on a wide-ranging anti-corruption bill that was first proposed last year and is a cornerstone of her stump speech on the campaign trail.
Mr. Mitchell and other leaders from the Working Families Party said in interviews that their endorsement came with a message to other progressive organizations. Rather than passively observe the primary, they said, these groups should choose a side and flex their organizing muscle during the early stages to help knock Mr.
"Senator Warren knows how to kick Wall Street kleptocrats where he hurts, and she has got some truly visionary plans to make this country work for many," Mr. Mitchell said. “We need a mass movement to make her plans a reality, and we are going to be part of that work.”
Traditional bellwether endorsements from labor unions like the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees of the International Union have materialized though Mr. Sanders picked up endorsement from United Electrical Workers in August. Four months before the Iowa caucuses formally begin the presidential nomination contest, many organizations are still wrestling with a sprawling Democratic field.
Mr. Sanders finished second in the Working Families Party's ranked-choice endorsement system between five candidates – Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren, Julian Castro, former housing secretary in the Obama administration, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York. The voting happened after the candidates held in-person question-and-answer sessions with the group and its members. Senator Kamala Harris of California was dropped from consideration once she canceled her question-and-answer session in August.
Most national polls of the Democratic presidential primary show an increasingly clear top tier of three candidates – Mr. Biden, Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders – though Mr. Biden has the clear front-runner left.
“There will be a point when progressive voters have a choice between running candidates – for some that's today, and for others that will be on caucus or Primary Day next year, ”Said Yvette Simpson, chief executive of Democracy for America, another progressive group that endorsed Mr. Sanders in the last cycle. Ms. Simpson said her group did not plan to endorse a candidate before December.
“There are some great arguments for progressives rallying around a single candidate as soon as possible and others for taking the time to see how the contest develops,” she said .
In the years since President Trump's election, candidates backed by the Working Families Party have won congressional, state and local races across the country, expanding the group's power base from the Acela corridor to the West Coast.
Mr. Mitchell took over as national director for the party in 2018, after he rose in prominence during the Black Lives Matter movement born out of protests in Ferguson, Mo.
The group's leaders stressed that, even with their endorsement, their intention was not to divide the progressive left between Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders. The Senators are longtime friends and have painted themselves as publicly supportive of each other's candidacies.
“With Bernie,” Ms. Mr Warren said at a Democratic debate over the summer, indicating she supported Mr
Still, some more moderate Democrats have continued to sound alarms about progressives' ability to beat Mr. Sanders's single-payer health care plan and signaling their closeness at a time when political observers were craving an inner-party fight. Trump, and Ms. Warren's chances in particular. And many Republicans see the embrace of a single-payer, “Medicare for All” health care system and ambitious climate spending like the Green New Deal as a general election obligation waiting to be exploited.
Surrogates for other candidates – like Mr. Biden, Ms. Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. – have tried to paint Warren and Mr. Sanders as candidates of the elite, who talk about lofty ideologies instead of pragmatic solutions.
“My concern about the vision from the Sanders-Warren approach is that it can polarize Americans when we have other ways to deliver bold solutions without dividing the American people further, ”Mr. Buttigieg said Sunday on CNN.
Mitchell said he believed the Working Families Party could convert Democrats skeptical of broad-reaching progressive policies.
“Not worried about converting people who are already committed to a structural change agenda,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Concerned about the people who are still trying to figure out where they land.”
Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.