WASHINGTON – Three weeks before the 2020 Iowa caucuses, more and more members of Congress are endorsing candidates in the presidential nomination battle. While almost everyone on the Republican side is united behind President Donald Trump, on the Democratic side the endorsements show where different factions of the party currently stand.
The candidate who has received the largest number of congressional endorsements is former Vice President Joe Biden, with 35 members coming out in support of his campaign (including 30 representatives). Biden is currently leading in most Democratic opinion polls, although other candidates – such as Senator Bernie Sanders and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg – have led in several polls in Iowa and New Hampshire (the first two states on the primary schedule).
The latest candidate to enter the race, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, earned his first congressional endorsement on Monday when he was backed by Rep. Max Rose, a freshman congressman from New York. Rose is a moderate Democrat who won a tough election in 2018 in a district that was carried by Trump two years earlier. He is an army veteran and, like Bloomberg, Jewish.
Rose explained that he is supporting Bloomberg because of his “visionary leadership” and his history of “taking on tough fights” as mayor. Bloomberg, it should be noted, won a majority of the votes in Rose’s swing district – which includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn – when he ran for mayor.
However, among the large group of moderate Democrats who flipped Republican-held seats in the midterms, Rose’s endorsement is an outlier: Most of these lawmakers have yet to endorse any candidate. Among those who have, the majority have chosen Biden as their preferred candidate.
The 40 Democrats who won congressional seats from Republicans in the 2018 midterms are an important barometer, because many of them will face difficult reelection battles this year – and those battles will likely be affected by the question of who sits atop the Democratic ticket.
Among the members who have endorsed Biden is Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia. Like Rose, she is Jewish and a military veteran (she was an officer in the U.S. Navy). Trump narrowly carried her district in 2016, but she won by a small margin two years later. Virginia will hold its primary on March 3 as part of the “Super Tuesday” voting day.
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Biden has also been endorsed by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, another first-term congresswoman who flipped a congressional seat in Iowa that was previously under Republican control. Her district was also won by Trump in 2016. At 31, Finkenauer is one of the youngest members of Congress. One of her earliest involvements in politics was serving as an Iowa volunteer coordinator for Biden’s previous presidential run in 2007.
On Monday, Rep. Colin Allred of Texas, another freshman who beat an incumbent Republican in 2018, became the latest member of Congress to endorse Biden. Allred is the 10th black member of Congress to endorse the former vice president. Biden’s lead in the polls is mostly a result of his strong standing among African American voters: A recent Washington Post poll showed that 48 percent of black primary voters say they will support him.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has been endorsed by 12 members of the House , including one – Rep. Katie Porter of California – who flipped a Republican-held district in 2018. Warren has also been endorsed by Rep. Andy Levin, a freshman Jewish member of Congress from Michigan, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who in 2018 became the first black woman ever elected to Congress from the state of Massachusetts.
Pressley is part of the group of left-wing lawmakers known as “the Squad,” which also includes first-term congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (Michigan), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York). The latter three lawmakers, however, have all endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders, solidifying his hold on the party’s most left-wing elements.
Sanders has also been endorsed by the sole congressman representing his home state of Vermont, Peter Welch, and by the state’s other Democratic senator, Patrick Leahy.
Warren, for her part, has also been endorsed by the other senator from her home state of Massachusetts, Ed Markey, as well as by Congressman Joe Kennedy III, who is trying to defeat Markey in a party primary.
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has been endorsed by five members of Congress, including one from Iowa – Rep. Dave Loebsack. The polling and political analysis website FiveThirtyEight – which tracks the endorsements given to the different candidates – ranks Buttigieg lowest among the leading candidates when it comes to major endorsements. At the same time, though, it lists him as the fourth most likely candidate to win the nomination (after Biden, Sanders and Warren) based on polling and other factors.
Senator Amy Klobuchar has been endorsed by four members of Congress, all of them from her home state of Minnesota. These include two freshmen lawmakers who defeated incumbent Republicans in 2018 – Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips – as well as veteran lawmaker Collin Peterson, who represents a rural district where Donald Trump received 61 percent of the vote in 2016. Klobuchar takes pride in the fact that she won all the districts in her state in the 2018 midterms, including districts like Peterson’s that were easily won by Trump two years earlier.
Overall, the different endorsements correspond with the current state of the primary race. Biden has earned the largest number of endorsements, many of them coming from moderate Democrats who represent competitive, swing districts. This reflects Biden’s main argument: that he is best suited to defeat Trump in competitive swing states, especially in the Midwest. In addition, Biden has received the highest number of endorsements from African American lawmakers.
Sanders and Warren are splitting key endorsements from the party’s left-wing members of Congress, just as they are also fighting over the more progressive and liberal voters in the primary. Both also have strong support in their home states.
Klobuchar is receiving the support of members from Minnesota (the state’s other Democratic senator, Tina Smith, has also endorsed her), but is struggling to gain support beyond her home base. Buttigieg, the youngest of the leading candidates, has picked up several endorsements – and will likely win more if he has a strong showing in one or two of the early states. As for Bloomberg, he has just entered the race, and time will tell if Rose’s endorsement will be an outlier or the first of many.