Even as the Democratic Establishment is backing Hillary Clinton, much of the party's liberal grassroots is lining up behind Sen. Bernie Sanders.
On Thursday, Sanders won the support of Democracy for America and the Communication Workers of America, two major organizations that will lend Sanders broad grassroots support in the Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. The Vermont Senator also reached 2 million contributions to his campaign on Wednesday night, a mark of broad support among liberals, and last week won the endorsement of the Working Families Party, another grassroots Democratic group.
“The activist base—the committed base—is decidedly for Bernie,” said Larry Cohen, the former president of CWA who is now a surrogate for Sanders’ campaign.
Sanders remains a distant longshot for the Democratic nomination, lagging Clinton by about 25 points in national polls and in all the early primary states except his neighboring New Hampshire. The country's biggest unions have chosen to endorse Clinton and the vast majority of Democrats in Congress support her as well. Clinton has paved a clear path to winning the primary, racking up delegates and building large organizations in the primary states.
But Sanders' support among the party’s grassroots marks a divide among Democrats, many of whom are aligning behind Sanders even as Clinton seems inevitable.
Democracy for America, a grassroots group started by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean which has about one million members nationwide and a motivated base, voted overwhelmingly to support Sanders, the group announced at noon on Thursday. Nearly 90% of the group’s 270,000 members who voted in the endorsement poll said they supported Sanders. The group helped lead the push last year to get Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president, and the group’s support for Sanders indicates that the "Warren Wing” of the party has coalesced around him.
The CWA, a 700,000-member union, is Sanders’ biggest union endorsement yet. The group has a strong base of union members in early voting states including Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina as well as states in the south like Texas and Georgia, where Sanders is thus far lagging far behind Clinton. Unlike many of the union endorsements for Clinton, the CWA’s endorsement for Sanders was decided by a direct member vote, not the executive leadership of the union.
Last week, the Working Families Party, a growing coalition of labor-aligned activists in New York and more than half a dozen other states endorsed Sanders by a large margin. The WFP helped Bill de Blasio get elected mayor in New York City. De Blasio has endorsed Clinton.
At a raucous union press conference in Washington DC on Thursday, CWA members broke out into chants, singing "This is what Democracy looks like" and cheered and whistled as Sanders delivered his remarks.
"When we talk about grassroots democracy, this is exactly what I'm talking about," Sanders said. "We have enormous amounts of support at the grassroots level which is reflected in fact we have received support from dozens of locals around the country."
Sanders said that he likely would have more support from unions than he does if other unions opened up the process to a member vote. "What I would have hoped that unions who believe in democracy would create a wide open process," Sanders said.
Clinton has been endorsed by major unions including the American Federation of Teachers, representing some 1.6 million members, the National Education Association with 3 million members, as well as the American Federation of State County and Municipal employees, the Service Employees International Union and many others.
The endorsements will matter when it comes to mobilizing voters, particularly in the early states to come to the polls.
"CWA will do everything possible, every single thing possible in primary states and non-primary states, in places across this country we will use folks to contact their families and neighbors all working people," CWA President Chris Shelton said.
DFA said it plans to make phone calls and help raise money to support Sanders.
"W ith 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," said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America.