MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Rep. Mark Pocan, who didn’t back anyone in Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary in 2016, announced Thursday that this year he is endorsing Bernie Sanders, giving the Vermont senator a boost in the battleground state three months before its primary.
Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been battling to win over the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and Pocan’s endorsement is a big score for Sanders in Wisconsin.
“I have enormous respect for Elizabeth Warren,” Pocan told The Associated Press in an interview. “I just think not only do families connect very strongly with Bernie Sanders, the electability is very important.”
Pocan, who also will be chairing Sanders’ Wisconsin campaign, is one of the most liberal members of Congress and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He said that he decided to endorse this year because he felt Sanders had a strong connection to his beliefs and the best chance of winning.
“We really can’t take another term of Donald Trump,” Pocan said. “To me, the single strongest candidate we have running, the most electable, the most likely to beat Donald Trump is Bernie Sanders.”
Sanders carried all but one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties in 2016, defeating Hillary Clinton by 13 points. Pocan voted for Sanders and didn’t endorse Clinton until following the final primary in June that year, after she became the presumptive nominee. Clinton went on to lose to Trump in Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes. Trump’s win marked the first time since 1984 that a Republican presidential candidate carried the state.
Pocan’s announcement came two days after Trump held a rally in downtown Milwaukee, just down the street from the arena where Democrats will gather for the national convention in July to pick their nominee. Wisconsin is part of the “blue wall” of states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, that Trump narrowly won in 2016 but that Democrats are focused on taking back this year.
Pocan is the first Democrat in Wisconsin’s congressional delegation to endorse anyone in the presidential race this year. Pocan is well known to Democrats in Wisconsin, having served in the state Legislature representing Madison for 14 years before being elected to Congress in 2012.
Pocan said he will put his knowledge of the state to work for Sanders immediately, as well as campaign for him in states with earlier, upcoming primaries.
A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday showed former Vice President Joe Biden leading the Democratic field with 23% support. Sanders was next at 19% followed by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 15% and Warren with 14% support.
Pocan said Sanders would generate more excitement in Wisconsin than Biden and appeal better to college students, women and independent voters.
“When that primary voter goes out there, they want to find who’s going to bring that turnout, who has the best chance of winning,” Pocan said. “I don’t think Joe Biden is going to do that.”
Wisconsin’s primary is April 7.
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