With less than two weeks before Virginia residents cast their ballots in the Democratic presidential primary March 3, two local legislators are taking major statewide roles leading the campaign for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
But several Democratic leaders in Prince William County are staying out of the primary’s endorsement race, altogether.
Dels. Lee Carter, D-50th, and Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st, have been named co-chairs for Sanders’ campaign in Virginia.
Guzman said she plans to speak at campaign events in Virginia on behalf of Sanders.
She said Sanders has a solid base in Virginia and she’s focused on trying to grow that base.
“It’s going to be more competitive this time around,” she said, talking about more candidates in the field.
In the 2016 Democratic primary, Hilary Clinton received 64.3% of votes in Virginia and Sanders received 35.2%, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Sanders only did slightly better in Prince William, winning 35.5% of the vote.
Guzman said she supports Sanders on a variety of issues, including increases to the minimum wage, more funding for early childhood education and immigration. Guzman said she encourages people to look at the candidates’ agenda and background and vote in the primary.
“Make your voices heard,” she said.
Electability is an issue frequently pitched by Democratic campaigns. Guzman said she believes Sanders can defeat President Donald Trump in the general election because of Sanders’ stances on immigration, health care, criminal justice reform and climate change.
In November, Sanders stumped for local candidates at an event in Manassas right before voters went to the polls, with Democrats going on to secure a majority in the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate.
Carter said Sanders is not only Democrats’ best chance of defeating Trump, but he is also best positioned to “change the system that made Donald Trump possible.”
"Sen. Sanders is the only one running for President who has both a platform that can motivate non-traditional voters, and a movement that can deliver on that platform,” Carter said.
Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington, said local endorsements are valuable to presidential candidates, especially when there is a big field of candidates.
“Any candidate trying to compete across the range of Super Tuesday states is going to have to divide their time in such a way that they can only make very brief appearances in any one state,” Farnsworth said. “That’s where a network of campaign volunteers for a successful House of Delegates or [Virginia] Senate candidate can make all the difference.”
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-44th, who was co-chair of Kamala Harris’ campaign in Virginia before her exit from the race in early December, said he’s not endorsing anyone for now.
Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, said that she doesn’t engage in campaign politics while the General Assembly is in session. Roem said that although she will vote in the primary, she didn’t think making an endorsement in a presidential race would make much of a difference, with so much attention already trained on the race. She said with the work she’s doing in Richmond, she’s barely had time to follow the race.
“This is one of those things where it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do in terms of engaging in presidential primary politics,” Roem said. “You will make some people happy, you’ll disappoint a whole lot of other people.”
Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29th, and Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd, said they have not yet made an endorsement in the party’s presidential primary.
Del. Hala Ayala, D-51st, said in a statement on Feb. 17 several presidential campaigns have reached out for an endorsement, but she’s not yet ready to endorse one candidate.
“Currently I am focused on my work in the legislature as we are in session,” she said in a statement. “We are passing transformative pieces of legislation, including one of my bills which enables same-day voter registration.”
And there are a lot of options. The ballot includes eight candidates still in the race: former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.; former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg; and businessman Tom Steyer.
Farnsworth, who is also director of the Center for Leadership and Media, said if Super Tuesday results are split between multiple candidates, that may not be motivation enough for some candidates to drop out.
“If there’s a clear consensus, then it will be harder for candidates who don't do well on Super Tuesday to stay in,” Farnsworth said.
Bloomberg’s campaign will be a big question in Virginia and other Super Tuesday states. He has ignored the earlier contests and spent millions on campaign ads in the states voting March 3.
Farnswoth said Bloomberg’s advertising provides him a huge head start in terms of public attention to his campaign. The results in Virginia and elsewhere on Super Tuesday will gauge his popularity.
Farnsworth said the large number of Democratic presidential candidates will not dramatically change the party’s timeline to Nov. 3. The party is expected to make the ticket official during its convention this summer.
“There is plenty of time for the party to come together if it's going to,” he said. “But no doubt about it, the lengthier nomination struggle is less than optimal for the party.”