Rep. Mark Pocan

With the Democratic presidential competition now in high gear, the contenders are scrambling to collect endorsements, especially from high-profile House members. Candidates sometimes have to court key representatives over weeks or even months to gain backing that can lend credibility and organizational strength to their bids.

But Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders did not have to work hard to secure one of the most coveted of endorsements by a House member — that of Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan, D-Town of Vermont — which was announced Thursday.

“I think my endorsement might have been the quickest response he’s gotten in this campaign,” Pocan said of what happened when the two spoke last week.

A savvy strategist who is respected for his knowledge of the politics of his native Wisconsin — a critical swing state — Pocan does not always endorse in primaries. He may prefer a particular candidate, but he often holds back to see how the contenders run their races for the nomination.

For instance, though he voted for Sanders in the 2016 Wisconsin primary, Pocan made no formal endorsement. But this time, he says, “I started moving closer to getting behind Bernie, after watching him do well debate after debate.”

By the time Sanders called, the congressman said, he was ready to jump in not just as a supporter but as a surrogate who will campaign for Sanders in Wisconsin and states across the country. They started immediately, recording a nationally-circulated video about how Sanders can excite and mobilize working-class voters in communities like the one where Pocan grew up: the historic auto making center of Kenosha.

One of the few union members in the House (he’s with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades), Pocan explained, “I’ve know Bernie to be a champion for workers and unions since I was a local elected official. He has spoken truth to power his entire political career.”

The two have also worked together more closely in recent years, sponsoring Senate and House versions of major legislation, such as the pro-labor Workplace Democratic Act, and coordinating efforts on stopping endless wars in places like Yemen.

But what really moved Pocan was the “electability” issue that has so obsessed Democrats as they prepare to take on President Donald Trump.

“We need to make the strongest possible case to the public on why Donald Trump needs to go,” Pocan said. “The toxic political climate that Trump has fostered needs the best possible antidote, and that antidote is Bernie Sanders. I needed to get in this early to help do my part in getting us to nominate the strongest candidate to oppose Trump.”

The congressman is convinced that Sanders has what it takes to flip Wisconsin, a state that backed Democrats for president in every election from 1988 to 2012, but then chose Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by 22,748 votes in 2016. Noting that Sanders swept Wisconsin's 2016 Democratic primary, and that the senator has kept active in the state, Pocan said, “Bernie Sanders did an amazing job in Wisconsin in 2016. Not only did he win 71 of 72 counties, but also won nearly three-quarters of young voters and independents who voted in the primary. Bernie’s strong and unwavering advocacy for working families resonated in my state. In 2020, he will carry Wisconsin and the upper Midwest.”

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. and @NicholsUprising. 

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