Sen. Bernie Sanders emailed his national fundraising list Tuesday calling for his followers to support eight candidates running for office in state legislatures across the nation.
To a casual observer, the act of backing a handful of obscure politicians running for obscure political positions might sound like small potatoes — a far cry from Sanders' promised "political revolution." But the reality is that this could be part of the beginning stages of one.
This isn't the first time Sanders has used his political star power to give progressive down-ballot candidates a boost. In April, he used his fundraising operation to support three women running for Congress who were deemed the "next Elizabeth Warrens" by the left-wing magazine the Nation. Over the weekend, he said he gave his blessing to the progressive candidate challenging Rep. Debbie Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and the closest thing Sanders has to a nemesis in the party establishment.
With the new announcement, Sanders is now making his first foray into influencing state-level politics since becoming an icon of the left. "Bernie believes that the path toward bold change requires leaders to take back control of state capitols around the country and ensure fair redistricting in 2020," Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, said in a statement. "The leaders we're raising money for today are the members of Congress, senators and presidential candidates of tomorrow."
Sanders' increasingly prominent agenda to influence down-ballot races could foreshadow how he intends to make the best use of his status as a fiery leader of the left wing of the Democratic Party once the presidential nomination is settled. Given the likely event that he'll fail to clinch the nomination, he faces urgent questions over what he should do with the kind of following that fills up stadiums with ease and is capable of raising around $5,000 a minute on good days.
Sanders has already proven that he has the kind of trust among his following to be able to have them shower cash on unknown candidates at his bidding. After he asked his followers to make a $2.70 donation to be divided between his campaign and Nevada congressional candidate Lucy Flores', the Associated Press reported that she hauled in $428,000 in the first weeks of April, "dwarf[ing] the amount that she and her two main primary opponents each raised in the first three months of the year."
All politics is local: The Sanders boost should go an even longer way for state legislative candidates, whose elections are far cheaper, but are still crucial to shaping the fate of the Democratic Party and progressive politics more broadly.
Democrats have fared terribly on the state level during the Obama presidency, losing over 900 seats in state legislatures across the nation since 2009. The dominance of Republican state lawmakers has played a pivotal role in pushing local politics to the right in dozens of states, and it's also had an enormous impact on national politics — consider the consequences of GOP restrictive voter ID laws and gerrymandering.
There are many different things that Sanders can do to continue to harvest the political energy he's sown through his campaign. Helping cultivate a cadre of Sanders Democrats in state and congressional politics would be a particularly consequential one.