But there are dozens of down-ballot candidates who can be counted among Sanders’s supporters. For those with a decent shot at winning—a number the Washington Post reports is small—making an endorsement is a way of saying they aim to promote a Sanders-esque agenda if elected. And even for those whose campaigns will be short, an endorsement could raise the profile of their platform. “If candidates won’t tell you who they stand with, how can we trust them to stand for ‘we, the people?’” wrote long-shot Iowa House candidate Gary Kroeger, a former Saturday Night Live cast member, in a statement endorsing Sanders last fall.
In many ways, the candidates who support Sanders sound just like the average voter at one of his giant rallies: They fundamentally believe in his message that the economy is stacked in favor of those at the top, and they sincerely think a Sanders presidency could rearrange it. Some suggest his candidacy has primed voters to hear similar policies from down-ballot candidates. O’Connor, a businessman who studied at Harvard Law School under now-Senator Elizabeth Warren, said Sanders’ candidacy has “created some space” for him to talk about Wall Street, student loans, campaign finance—the very issues that motivated O’Connor to run in the first place. While Sanders’s campaign speaks to “problems and challenges that folks were already facing”—voters didn’t need to be introduced to them, in other words—the two candidates offer similar solutions. It helps O’Connor that New Hampshirites have had “almost a year to hear Senator Sanders speak about these issues.”
Lucy Flores, a former state assemblywoman who’s running for the House in Nevada’s Fourth District, said the issues she and other progressives champion—like raising the minimum wage—routinely win at the polls in the form of ballot initiatives. But “the really wonderful thing” Sanders has done is “connect those dots,” she said. “He’s managed to connect progressive issues with candidates, and really gotten people to believe that they can make a difference by electing people who are running on these progressive agendas.”
Some candidates make Sanders an integral part of their message. Tom Fiegen, a former Iowa state senator running for U.S. Senate, made his endorsement of Sanders central to his “why I’m running” reasoning: “To restore and protect working Iowans from billionaire special interests, overturn Citizens United and stand with Bernie Sanders, before and after the election.” O’Connor says he won’t take super PAC money, as Sanders insists publically he doesn’t. Supporters are “flocking” to his campaign “because I stood with Sen. Sanders and made that principled decision,” O’Connor told a local news station last month. And Tim Canova, who’s challenging Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida, notes in his campaign bio that he’s advised Sanders on economic policy.