Almost five months before the Iowa caucuses, the progressive Working Families Party announced its endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren over Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential race on Monday.
"Senator Warren knows how to kick Wall Street kleptocrats where it hurts, and she's got some truly visionary plans to make this country work for the many," Maurice Mitchell, the party's national director, told The New York Times. "We need a mass movement to make her plans a reality, and we're going to be a part of that work."
The party said Warren received more than 60% of the group's support through a combination of its tens of thousands of members and several dozen party leaders. The online member vote counted for 50% of the total, while leadership made up the other 50%. The WFP refused to release separate breakdowns of the member and leadership votes, despite making that information public in past elections.
The WFP, a third party that originated in New York, has long been supportive of Sanders, and endorsed his 2016 presidential bid with 87% of the party members' support in a December 2015 vote. Sanders has called the WFP "the closest thing there is to a political party that believes in my vision of democratic socialism."
Mitchell said he hoped the endorsement would encourage other progressive groups to begin coalescing behind Warren sooner rather than later."You don't defeat the moderate wing of Democrats through thought pieces or pithy tweets, you defeat their politics through organizing," Mitchell told The Times.
Monday's announcement drew immediate rebuke from Sanders' supporters. Some took issue with the WFP's framing of Warren's campaign as a superior political organizing force.
Others called for the party to release its internal numbers to show what portion of its members supported Sanders.
The editors of the socialist magazine Jacobin echoed the sentiments of many Sanders supporters online in theorizing the endorsement could be skewed by the WFP's leadership. They flatly suggested the group wasn't being honest about the results of its membership vote, although they presented little evidence besides statements from anonymous sources on the WFP board suggesting that the board heavily favored Warren.
"It seems obvious the party has something to hide: members were likely divided between Warren and Sanders," Jacobin editors Bhaskar Sunkara and Micah Uetricht wrote in a Tuesday piece. "Perhaps the latter even ended up with a majority of rank-and-file votes. The leadership, several board members tell us, was strongly behind Warren."
The backlash to the WFP's move illustrates both that the endorsement is influential and that it's a harbinger of a larger fight brewing between the far-left wing of the party and a more establishment core of progressives.
It could also be a sign that the progressive left may be uniting behind Warren, who's steadily risen in the polls over the last several months and offers a more mainstream vision of progressive politics.