John Lewis is endorsement every Dem candidate wants

Greg Nash

Democrats making bids for the White House are clamoring to lock down support from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), whose endorsement is among the most coveted on Capitol Hill.

The iconic civil rights leader, who switched his endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama in 2008, is holding off on backing a candidate as he considers the massive field of contenders.

In an interview with The Hill, Lewis said “several” 2020 contenders had swung by his office to seek his advice or an endorsement.

{mosads}There are two members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) running for president — Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — but Lewis said he’s giving all of the candidates a look.

“I’d like to see the best possible person be elected, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re from CBC or the Democratic Party,” Lewis said.

“I’m not leaning toward making an endorsement, not at all,” he added.

Lewis’s decision is complicated by his deep history with many of the candidates.

The 17-term Georgia Democrat is longtime friends with former Vice President Joe Biden. They became close over Biden’s time in the Senate, on the campaign trail and through the Obama years.

Lewis got to know former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) in 2016 during the House sit-in for gun control.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has walked with Lewis at the annual pilgrimage from Selma to Montgomery commemorating “Bloody Sunday,” when Lewis was beaten by police and nearly killed.

Lewis’s office has shared staff with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and he’s co-sponsored bills with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

And Lewis campaigned vigorously for Stacey Abrams’s gubernatorial bid in Georgia. Abrams is increasingly signaling she’ll run for president, which would give Lewis a home-state African-American woman to consider.

“I’m not even leaning, I’m meeting with people,” Lewis said.

“I’ve taken the time to sit with them on the sofa in my office … some people just want some advice and I’ve been telling them all, get out there and work hard.”

Lewis said he wants a candidate “that can bring the American people together and that can win.”

“We must win,” he said.

Lewis is enormously influential among Democrats and a towering figure of the civil rights movement. He received a standing ovation at this year’s Oscars, where he introduced Best Picture winner “The Green Book,” which is about racial tensions in the Deep South in the early 1960s.

Shortly after President Trump was elected, he angered many in Washington for taking a shot at Lewis, who had said Trump was not a legitimate president. Trump responded over Twitter, saying Lewis is “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”

Many Republicans rallied behind Lewis in the feud. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Lewis’s “talk” had “changed the world.”

Lewis signaled that if he endorses it could come late in the primary season, potentially providing a burst of momentum for whomever can lock it down.

“The support of John Lewis is both coveted and consequential,” said Cornell William Brooks, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the former president of the NAACP. “His endorsement would show that a candidate is both politically viable and has moral legitimacy.”

In 2007, Lewis initially endorsed Clinton. He switched his endorsement to Obama in February of 2008, which was a devastating blow for Clinton and rocket fuel for Obama.

Lewis could be a kingmaker this cycle as well as the massive field of candidates vies for support from the African-American community.

Biden has strong support among black voters. Sanders struggled to win support from African-Americans during his 2016 presidential run and needs to make inroads there to win the nomination in 2020. Harris and Booker are close with many members of the CBC and have been pressing their colleagues for support.

The CBC will not endorse as a whole, but the lawmakers are discussing the candidates among themselves and a sizable portion may decide to stick together.

“A number of members will get together and endorse probably one of the candidates and that may create a flow of others,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) isn’t ready to endorse yet either, but said he’d like to see someone from the CBC atop the ticket. Clay said he’d met personally with Harris and Booker. Harris explicitly asked for his endorsement, while Booker just gave him a heads up that he was about to get into the race.

“It’s a crowded field,” Clay said.

Tags 2020 Democratic primary Barack Obama Ben Sasse Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden John Lewis Kirsten Gillibrand Lacy Clay

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