Bernie Sanders has picked up his first endorsement from a Senate colleague: Jeff Merkley. The Oregon senator went public with his support on Wednesday in a New York Times op-ed, which praised Sanders for “boldly and fiercely addressing the biggest challenges facing our country.”
Merkley largely stuck to Sanders’ preferred script in the endorsement, listing the self-styled socialist’s chief selling points as his opposition to trade deals, his calls to significantly curtail domestic oil and gas production as a way to curb climate change, and his ongoing fight against “the concentration of campaign cash from the mega-wealthy that is corrupting the vision of opportunity embedded in our Constitution”—all issues that Team Bernie has tried to use to contrast their man with Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail.
Merkley, though, was careful to sprinkle in some praise for the Democratic front-runner as well:
Unlike the Republican primary circus, Democrats have a choice between two candidates with lifelong track records of fighting for economic opportunity and who are committed to America’s being a force for peace and stability and who are eager to meet today’s challenges and move our country forward for all its citizens, together.
From her time advocating for children as a young lawyer to her work as first lady of Arkansas and the United States, and as a senator and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has a remarkable record. She would be a strong and capable president.
Those kind words aside, though, Merkley’s decision to back Sanders could make things a little awkward for him the next time he and his Democratic colleagues sit down for lunch in the U.S. Capitol. Of the 44 Democrats in the Senate, 40 have already endorsed Clinton. (Sanders and Maine Sen. Angus King, both of whom caucus with Democrats, were elected as independents.) But Merkley, one of the most liberal members of the Senate, is not up for re-election again until 2020, which likely gave him a little more leeway to break with the pack and side with the clear underdog in the race.
Despite Merkley’s decision, Clinton remains way out in front in the endorsement race. According to FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker—which weights the support of congressmen (1 point), senators (5 points), and governors (10 points)—Hillary leads Bernie by 477 points.