Former Michigan Senator Endorses Bernie Sanders, For Better Or For Worse
Bernie Sanders picked up the support of a former Michigan lawmaker in the hours before Sunday's Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan. Appearing side by side with the Vermont senator, former senator Don Riegle endorsed Sanders at an event in Flint. The chances that Sanders will bring up the Riegle's endorsement at the debate are, oh, roughly 100 percent, but the question remains — will Riegle's support actually move any votes?
In theory, Riegle is a good get for Sanders. He was born in Flint, which has recently become a cause célèbre for Democrats thanks to Michigan's water crisis, and he had a long career representing Michigan in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Considering Sanders' relative lack of endorsements in this race, Riegle's support would seem to be a big deal.
And yet there's good reason to suspect the Riegle endorsement will be a dud. For one, he retired in 1994, years before the youngest potential Sanders voters were born. Second of all, he was a Republican until 1973, when he switched his party affiliation to Democratic. Granted, Riegle made this switch out of opposition to President Richard Nixon's Vietnam war policies, but still, getting endorsed by a former Republican maybe isn't great in a Democratic primary — especially for Sanders, who himself isn't technically a Democrat.
There's more. Sanders' has largely based his campaign on opposition to money in politics, but Riegle is a corporate lobbyist. That means he helps rich clients influence lawmakers, which would seem to make him the very embodiment of the problem Sanders is seeking to solve. And then there's the fact that Riegle was embroiled in a major financial corruption scandal in the 1980s, although that story might be too old to influence voters one way or the other.
Having said all of that, the 2016 cycle has more or less obliterated conventional assumptions about endorsements — specifically, the assumption that they matter at all. Marco Rubio has the most endorsements in the Republican field, for example, yet he's far behind in delegates and has only won a single state. Earlier in the race, Jeb Bush racked up a huge lead in delegates, which obviously didn't help him get the nomination. And while Hillary Clinton has a massive lead over Sanders in endorsements, her polling lead isn't nearly as massive.
Riegle's endorsement, then, may be a bit of a wash. It's a helpful thing to brag about at debates and on the campaign trail, and it may perhaps hold some sway with older, moderate Democrats in the state. But it's almost certainly not going to be a game-changer one way or the other.