Update: Sanders has now released a statement endorsing Ossoff.
"Let me be very clear. It is imperative that Jon Ossoff be elected congressman from Georgia's 6th district and that Democrats take back the U.S. House," Sanders said. "I applaud the energy and grassroots activism in Jon's campaign. His victory would be an important step forward in fighting back against Trump's reactionary agenda."
The below post is from Thursday.
Bernie Sanders has embarked on a “Come Together and Fight Back” tour with with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. But he's not really helping on that first part.
Over the last few days, Sanders's has at times offered some odd comments for a guy pushing for Democratic unity.
- He said that he still isn't actually a Democrat
- He repeated his line that President Trump “did not win the election; the Democrats lost the election” — drawing some angry responses from Hillary Clinton supporters who see this as either a shot at her or as something that Sanders's primary campaign contributed to (or both)
- Sanders's message has differed from Perez's in a couple key ways
But the most puzzling development this week is Sanders's decision to keep Georgia special election candidate Jon Ossoff at arms-length. Sanders hasn't endorsed Ossoff, and in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he seemed to suggest Ossoff's progressive bona fides were in question.
“If you run as a Democrat, you’re a Democrat,” Sanders said. “Some Democrats are progressive, and some Democrats are not.”
Sanders qualified this by saying he didn't know much about Ossoff, so perhaps it should be taken at face value — that he truly doesn't know enough to make a decision about him. But it's an odd statement to make about a guy who has been running in such a high-profile race and in whom Democrats have invested so much money and blood, sweat and tears.
Here's a telling response from Daily Kos Elections's David Nir:
Bernie Sanders isn't helping—he's hurting. He should either endorse Ossoff and raise money for him, or keep his silence https://t.co/G6YzNTRWHB
— David Nir (@DavidNir) April 19, 2017
— David Nir (@DavidNir) April 19, 2017
Perhaps the strangest thing about this is that Sanders isn't vouching for Ossoff's progressivism even as he's doing so for another Democrat of pretty questionable credentials. That would be Omaha mayoral candidate and former state senator Heath Mello, whom Sanders will campaign with Thursday.
As the Wall Street Journal's Reid J. Epstein and Natalie Andrews note, Mello in 2009 sponsored a bill that would require a woman to look at ultrasound images of her fetus before undergoing an abortion (he still opposes abortion rights). Indeed, it's tough to think of something that progressives would hate more.
Yet Sanders defends his endorsement of Mello — whom he somewhat curiously refers to as “this fellow" (?) — by noting the terrain on which Democrats are trying to win.
“If this fellow wins in Nebraska, that would be a shot across the board, that in a state like Nebraska a progressive Democrat can win, that will give hope to folks in other conservative states that perhaps they can win as well,” Sanders said.
That entire justification could just as easily be applied to Ossoff, though. He is, after all, running in a district that Republicans have routinely won with more than 60 percent of the vote. Omaha is in Nebraska, yes, but President Obama won its congressional district and an electoral vote there in 2008, and a Mello victory would hardly be the boost that Ossoff's would be.
It all makes Sanders's decision not to back Ossoff even more conspicuous. Perhaps he's much more concerned, as the Journal suggests, in economic progressivism than he is on social issues. But Sanders is really on an island here, threatening to create divisions where none previously existed. And given Democrats need every voter possible to turn out in the June 20 runoff, comments like Sanders's are very unhelpful.
Whether it was a wayward comment or something more targeted at Ossoff's brand of progressivism, it's unlikely to help Democrats “come together” very soon. And Sanders, perhaps unsurprisingly, is proving a questionable messenger for that cause.