At a massive rally today in New York City, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez formally endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders. The endorsement, which leaked earlier this week during the fourth Democratic debate, has been covered nationally, a rare moment of news cycle domination for a campaign that’s often struggle to get positive mainstream coverage.
There has been some skepticism about how significant Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement is. Sanders surrogate Jonathan Tasini told Politico that Ocasio-Cortez fans who didn’t already support Sanders “could fit into a booth at the local diner.” Former Clinton 2016 aide Jess Morales Rocketto questioned to the New York Times whether Ocasio-Cortez is “super influential to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.”
These are both fair critiques, but I think they are somewhat missing the point of the endorsement. Ocasio-Cortez’s support isn’t meant to jumpstart Sander’s flagging poll numbers in early states, it’s a media and base play meant to reset the narrative around the campaign and energize his supporters. For a campaign that often attempts to position itself outside of conventional political thought, I’m struck by how politically savvy Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement has been handled by the Sanders camp.
Here’s why I think the endorsement—and its handling—matters:
- It resets the narrative around Sander’s campaign in the media. Even before a heart attack took Sanders off the trail for two weeks, his numbers in early states were going down amid a lot of media chatter around Warren’s rise. By leaking the endorsement right after a strong debate performance earlier this week, Sander’s camp practically guaranteed the media would be talking about his comeback rather than predicting his demise.
- Ocasio-Cortez isn’t the most influential or popular politician in America, but she’s one of the most-covered by the media. Her endorsement was one of the most sought-after this cycle partially because of this; anyone who got her support was going to get a ton of press coverage for it. Sanders got that; while getting a ton of coverage about how the fight for the American left is still raging between him and Warren.
- Ocasio-Cortez is also wildly popular among Sanders base and liberals generally. Her endorsement seemed to reenergize his support among the Sanders faithful; which built directly into the massive rally we saw today. That rally was a tremendous show of force for the Sanders campaign and drove another positive media cycle for the campaign. Ocasio-Cortez is also expected to travel with Sanders to California, where I’d expect she’d be really useful at getting the campaign more media attention and turning out undecided liberals who like her and may have otherwise been leaning towards Warren.
- Ocasio-Cortez’s support dispels a common myth about Sander’s demographic support. We’ve know for a while now that Sander’s support cuts across generational lines rather than racial lines. Yet there’s a pretty accepted mainstream narrative that Sanders supporters are predominantly white and male. While it’s frustrating that a single prominent woman of color’s support would change that narrative, I do think it’s an optically important endorsement that will go a long way in dispelling that myth in mainstream political circles.
While I don’t think AOC’s endorsement will do much to shift poll numbers (which I’d expect to continue to slide down as the news of Sander’s heart attack continues to reverberate), I do think it’s undeniable that her endorsement is a significant boon for the campaign. They’ve handled the rollout incredibly well, and I think it significantly shifts the narrative around their campaign in a way that will benefit them in the long run.