Warren flexes progressive power with Working Families endorsement

The Working Families Party, a liberal organization founded in New York, endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president on Monday, offering a fresh glimpse into an emerging primary season divide on the progressive left.

Warren won the WFP’s support through an online vote, earning nearly 61% support from a combination of the party’s members, supporters and national committee. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was endorsed by the WFP ahead of the 2016 primary with 87% of the vote, scored only 35.8% this time around.

The nearly 2-to-1 margin of defeat will sting Sanders supporters and further embolden Warren, as she seeks to edge out her colleague and ideological ally as the leading progressive primary choice — and stake her claim as the top Democratic challenger to moderate former Vice President Joe Biden.

WFP leadership sought to play down the vote as the sign of any potential rift on the left. Its national director, Maurice Mitchell, touted Warren’s fierce populism in a statement, saying she “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.”

But he added that Democrats were “lucky” to have both Warren, who will deliver a speech Monday night in New York City, and Sanders in the race and credited them for their work to shift the boundaries of debate within the Democratic Party.

“Senator Warren and Senator Sanders have both shaped the ideological terrain on which this campaign is being waged,” Mitchell said. “They have proven an effective team on debate stages and in the polls, and we hope that partnership continues. We’re proud to call both of them allies in the fight for a more just America.”

The WFP, which was born and is primarily based in New York City, has been expanding its reach and influence since President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Last year, it endorsed Cynthia Nixon in her progressive, but ultimately failed, primary challenge to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a move that alienated it from the Democratic Party establishment in the state.

But the party found success down the ballot, helping to elect a slate of mostly young progressive state lawmakers, turning the legislature blue. It also worked closely with progressives in other states, most notably Wisconsin, which elected WFP member Mandela Barnes to be its lieutenant governor.

The WFP’s decision to jump into the primary race now, when so many other energetic liberal groups — and most major unions — have chosen to wait and see how the Warren-Sanders race-within-a-race plays out, sent sparks flying within the left’s online forums.

Like Mitchell, Joe Dinkin, the WFP campaigns director, lauded both Warren and Sanders as transformative progressive leaders, but said the party wanted to get more deeply involved in the primary.

“We felt like the WFP couldn’t sit on the sidelines,” Dinkin told CNN. “The right wing, the corporate forces in the Democratic Party, they’re all getting organized. So we had to, too, (so) we created a process for our party to make a decision and we’re thrilled to stand with Warren and work to build her grassroots army.”

The WFP endorsement process played over a number of weeks as a handful of candidates sat down for live-streamed interviews. In addition to Warren and Sanders, former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio all actively sought their endorsement.