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Working Families Party, which backed Sanders in 2016, endorses Warren for 2020

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks to delegates at the Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention on Saturday.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks to delegates at the Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention on Saturday. (Jessica Hill/AP)
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The Working Families Party, a group with growing influence in liberal politics that backed the 2016 presidential bid of Sen. Bernie Sanders, announced its endorsement Monday of Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

While a boon to the Massachusetts Democrat’s efforts to court left-wing voters, the decision by the labor-aligned group that originated in New York was a particular blow to Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist.

Within moments of the announcement, Sanders supporters were raising questions about the vote totals that led to the endorsement and pointing to prominent WFP members who disagreed with the move.

Four years ago, Sanders called the Working Families Party “the closest thing there is to a political party that believes in my vision of democratic socialism,” adding, “The WFP shares my view of a society and an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well connected.”

But the group has now chosen to champion Warren instead.

“Senator Warren strikes fear into the hearts of the robber barons who rigged the system, and offers hope to millions of working people who have been shut out of our democracy and economy,” Maurice Mitchell, the group’s national director, said in a statement. “Our job now is to help Senator Warren build the mass movement that will make her transformational plans a reality.”

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Figures released by the group showed Warren resoundingly prevailing in its ranked-choice voting system, getting 60.9 percent in the first round, and Sanders trailing with 35.3 percent. Half of the vote share came from the WFP’s national committee, while the other half came from its tens of thousands of rank-and-file members.

The vote capped a three-month process that included live question-and-answer sessions with several of the Democratic contenders, as well as online forums and house parties that drew what the group said were “tens of thousands” of participants.

The WFP released only the combined voting tally and declined to provide additional information about the rank-and-file numbers.

“For there to be one true vote, and to maintain the nature of a secret ballot, all of the tallies went into one number,” Mitchell told The Washington Post. “Any time there’s a vote like this, there’s going to be people with some negative feelings about the outcome. But an endorsement of Warren is not a non-endorsement of Sanders. We have been big supporters of both of them, and we have nothing but praise for the Sanders campaign.”

Some WFP members who disagreed with the vote made their feelings known on Twitter.

“As a CO-WFP Exec Committee member, I stand with leaders like Sen. Sanders who fight for us no matter which way the political winds blow,” tweeted Joe Salazar, a WFP leader in Colorado who was endorsed by Sanders in a 2018 run for state attorney general. “Being on the right side of history means you’ll always be right!”

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And some on the left argued that WFP had missed an opportunity to endorse a candidate with stronger ties to the labor movement.

“Bernie Sanders has a multiracial, working-class base; Warren’s is upper-middle class and white,” Micah Uetricht, an editor at the socialist magazine Jacobin, said in an email. “Bernie believes in building a bottom-up movement beyond his own campaign to win a better world; Warren’s vision is focused mostly on policy, some of which is decent (and some of which is a watered-down version of Bernie’s proposals) but won’t stand a chance of passage without a strong working-class movement at its back.”

Warren celebrated the WFP endorsement in multiple tweets, including one that showed her on a train holding her arms above her head and then displaying a laptop commuter with the announcement of the WFP decision.

“What cheering in the Quiet Car looks like,” she wrote. “Thanks @WorkingFamilies!”

In a statement after the endorsement, Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said the campaign “is built from the support of millions of working people across the country, with our leading donors being Walmart workers, teachers and nurses.”

“We look forward to working with the Working Families Party and other allies to defeat Donald Trump,” he added.

Mitchell, the first black leader of WFP, said that the endorsement represent diverse support for left-wing candidates.

“We’re a rapidly diversifying organization, and it’s been my mandate since I started this job one year ago to diversify it,” he said.