Levi Sanders has a steep hill to climb to represent New Hampshire in Congress.
He faces a crowded field of eight other Democrats in advance of the primaries in September; should he prevail, he will challenge a Republican in a Trump-leaning swing district. And he has not received a significant piece of help: an endorsement from Bernie Sanders, a rising kingmaker in the world of progressive Democratic politics, and, perhaps more important, his father.
“Levi has spent his life in service to low income and working families, and I am very proud of all that he has done,” Sanders said in a statement, first published by the Boston Globe, which did tout some of his son’s policy initiatives. “In our family, however, we do not believe in dynastic politics. Levi is running his own campaign in his own way.”
Sanders’s decision to not endorse Levi, his only biological child, stands out. The senator has crisscrossed the country to support and endorse candidates who reflect the leftward wing of the Democratic Party that he has come to represent, as the Globe pointed out. But he has not visited New Hampshire, a state he carried by a landslide against Hillary Clinton during its presidential primary in 2016, since his son announced his candidacy in February.
Levi, 49, has lived in New Hampshire for 14 years, though he does not live in the 1st Congressional District, where he is running to replace the retiring Democrat Carol Shea-Porter.
The lack of an endorsement is even more surprising given that Levi’s campaign appears to embrace the more leftist liberalism that his father helped elevate, to the surprise of many, during the 2016 presidential campaign. In an interview with The Washington Post’s David Weigel after he announced his candidacy, Levi said that he supported a Medicare-for-all system and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. On his campaign website, he says he endorses a system in which everyone has the option to go to a university tuition-free — reminiscent of a similar talking point of his father’s during the presidential campaign.
“For over 17 years, I have represented the working class who have been beaten up by the system,” Levi writes on his website. “It is time to demand that we have a system which represents the 99% and not the 1 percent who have never had it so good.”
Perhaps the unusual dance between Sanders and his son’s political career can be summed up with an image from Levi’s website. The homepage displays a large photo with Levi facing the camera at what appears to be a Bernie Sanders rally. His father faces the opposite way, his back toward the camera, identifiable even from behind.
Levi did not respond to a request for a comment.
“You know I’m not ‘Bernie’s son.’ I’m the son of Larry David’s fourth cousin,” he joked to the Globe, making a reference to the distant familial connection with the television comedian, before canceling a more in-depth interview with the newspaper.
Political observers in New Hampshire told the Globe that they have not been impressed with the campaign that Levi, a legal analyst who helps people denied federal benefits, is running.
“I don’t hear anyone even bringing up his name,” former state senator Burt Cohen, who is backing a rival of Levi’s, told the Globe. “People aren’t sure why he is running. If Levi thought he could just transfer the enthusiasm from his father to himself, well, he is learning that is just not happening at all.”
Sanders raised $11,500 and has been endorsed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), according to the Globe.
“Levi is unapologetic about a progressive economic vision,” Khanna said, according to the Globe. “He gets that Democrats need to have concrete plans for creating good-paying jobs and addressing wage stagnation. He also is passionate about getting money out of politics.”