Sanders wheels out big Flint endorsement before debate

Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE wheeled out an endorsement of his presidential bid from one of Flint's celebrated political sons just before Sunday night's Democratic debate in that Michigan city plagued by a toxic water crisis.

Don W. Riegle Jr., who served in the House and Senate over his career, endorsed Sanders in a press conference held about an hour before the CNN debate between Sanders and presidential rival Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE in Flint, Mich. 

"[Sanders] stands head and shoulders above all the other candidates in either party," Riegle said, according to reporting by Amy Chozick of The New York Times.

Riegle, who grew up in Flint, used the press conference to attack Bill and Hillary Clinton, saying their policies were bad for his hometown.

Former President Clinton's policies "destroyed the Flint I loved," Riegle reportedly said.

"The Clintons rammed NAFTA down the throats of the American people with false promises," Riegle reportedly added.

Riegle served as a member of both chambers of Congress until his retirement in 1995. 

Since the Flint water crisis became a national news story, Clinton in particular has used her megaphone to draw attention to the lead poisoning. Tonight's debate is part of intensifying the national spotlight on Flint's troubles.

Clinton and Sanders will compete for Michigan's 147 delegates in Tuesday's primary. Clinton enjoys strong institutional support and leads Sanders by 20 percentage points in the state, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average of recent polls.