Bernie Sanders is sputtering.
Two years after his defeat in the 2016 presidential primary, the Vermont senator has amassed a growing string of losses in races in which he has intervened. Beginning last year, Sanders-backed candidates faltered in an Omaha mayoral race and a nationally watched House race in Montana.
Then came Rep. Tom Perriello’s loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, and in June, the drubbing in Iowa of Pete D’Alessandro, a top adviser to Sanders during his 2016 Iowa caucus campaign. Cathy Glasson, endorsed by Sanders’ successor group, Our Revolution, fell short in Iowa’s gubernatorial primary, as did Peter Jacob and Jim Keady in two New Jersey House races. Dennis Kucinich lost in Ohio.
Tuesday night brought Sanders and his army their latest blow, with a pair of high-profile losses in Michigan and Kansas.
Emerging from the 2016 election, Sanders’ political prospects appeared to hinge on his ability to sway the Democratic Party’s left flank. And Sanders’ campaign is widely considered instrumental in a recent surge in small donors and young people registering to vote, and in the elevation of issues such as student debt and universal health care.
Yet in high-profile races across the country, Sanders-backed candidates continue to falter at the ballot box. The losses suggest organizational weaknesses that could hamper Sanders if he runs for president again in 2020 — even as a diaspora of Sanders-aligned candidates continues to test his appeal in the midterm elections.
The Tuesday elections offered the first significant test of Sanders’ ability to influence a Democratic primary since June. And this time, he had high-profile help from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an instant sensation for progressive Democrats since her stunning upset — notably, without the endorsement of Sanders — of Rep. Joe Crowley in New York.
In a crowded Democratic primary in Kansas, former Sanders campaign staffer Brent Welder said before results were finalized on Tuesday night that his “message of bold progressive values and running an uncorrupted campaign that does not take corporate PAC money is resonating with people across Kansas, across the district and across the country.”
Echoing Sanders’ rhetoric from the 2016 presidential campaign, he told supporters in his suburban Kansas City district, “We are going to prove that we can and we will succeed [in] sending a congressman to Washington who is not corrupted and who will stand up to Wall Street and the giant corporations and the billionaires that are buying our politicians.”
But hours later, the race was called for Welder’s opponent Sharice Davids, an attorney who will take on Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) in November.