Major progressive group backs Sanders
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The progressive group Democracy for America will endorse Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Bernie Sanders' age should not disqualify him in 2020 Small-dollar donations explode in the Trump era MORE, the first presidential primary endorsement in the history of the group, which boasts more than 1 million members.  

The Vermont senator won 88 percent of the group’s online vote, far beyond the two-thirds majority needed to trigger an endorsement. Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans bail on Coffman to invest in Miami seat Katy Perry praises Taylor Swift for diving into politics Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE won just 10 percent of the vote, with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley finishing with 1 percent.

“Bernie Sanders is an unyielding populist progressive who decisively won Democracy for America members’ first presidential primary endorsement because of his lifelong commitment to taking on income inequality and the wealthy and powerful interests who are responsible for it,” DFA executive director Charles Chamberlain said in a statement alongside the announcement.

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“With today’s endorsement, DFA members are joining Bernie’s “political revolution” and working to take it both to the White House and up-and-down the ballot, in races coast to coast.”

The Burlington, Vt., based group allowed anyone to vote on its website during a nine-day voting period, only accepting one vote per email address. More than three-quarters of those who voted had been members of DFA before the contest began. 

DFA announced the decision in an email Thursday asking members to donate to support the group, as well as Sanders by proxy. The email promises to “immediately start organizing on behalf of Bernie in key primary states, from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada to nearly a dozen states voting on Super Tuesday.” 

The group also convened a press call to expand on the endorsement and was surprised by Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver, who jumped on to thank the group. 

"This endorsement is a critical component of our path to victory all across the country," he said.

"Sen. Sanders is igniting the grassroots and this is a further testament to that." 

The endorsement is a significant victory for Sanders, who has tried to frame himself as the progressive alternative to Clinton. Both candidates have embraced progressive policies in their White House bids, but Sanders has needled Clinton on the trail for what he sees as her coming to support some liberal policies too late. 

Clinton supporter and former 2004 Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean founded DFA and helped lobby the group’s members to back her in an email pitch.

"Hillary Clinton is the candidate who shares our progressive values on issues like climate change, immigration reform, and LGBT rights — and she has the experience and ability to turn those values into policies that will help Americans," Dean wrote in his email sent last week to members.

Both Sanders and O’Malley were also given the opportunity to solicit the members by email. 

When asked about O'Malley's poor showing, executive director Charles Chamberlain said the former governor is not as transformational a figure.

"Martin O’Malley has been fantastic as a governor, has had great leadership and I think is running a really solid and good presidential campaign," he said.

"But the bottom line is he isn’t the insurgent candidate that Bernie is, he doesn’t have the fundamental change that is clear would come with the political revolution that Bernie is trying to create."

While the group has never taken sides during a presidential primary, it has spent more than $32 million to help 843 progressive Democratic candidates nationwide win elections since 2004.

Earlier this year, DFA also helped spearhead the Run Warren Run movement that sought to draft Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDNA is irrelevant — Elizabeth Warren is simply not Cherokee The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump seizes on immigrant 'caravan' for midterms | WHCA criticizes Trump for praising lawmaker who assaulted reporter | Trump takes harder line on Saudis Clinton aide: Chances 'highly unlikely' but 'not zero' Hillary will run for president again MORE into a presidential bid. But that effort shuttered after Warren repeatedly brushed aside the prospect of a bid in 2016.

It is not the first time that Sanders has won former Warren supporters. Ready for Warrenanother draft Warren group, decided to endorse Sanders in June.

- This story was updated at 12:42 p.m.