Sanders gets assist from Ocasio-Cortez against Biden

Sanders gets assist from Ocasio-Cortez against Biden
© Greg Nash

Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE is using Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasts Tucker Carlson as 'white supremacist sympathizer' Julián Castro jabs ICE: 'Delete your account' MORE (D-N.Y.) as a new weapon against Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

Sanders appeared at Howard University on Monday night with Ocasio-Cortez, who received a boost from the Vermont Independent when she challenged Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.) in a Democratic primary in 2018.

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Ocasio-Cortez — who hasn’t officially endorsed Sanders — is returning the favor by hitting Biden, the Democratic front-runner. The former vice president has soared to the top of polls since entering the presidential race nearly three weeks ago, creating a new challenge for Sanders.

On Monday night, she criticized “middle-of-the-road” climate plans in a clear shot at Biden meant to contrast his centrism with the more liberal policies of Sanders.  

“I’ll be damned,” Ocasio-Cortez began during a rally for the Green New Deal climate plan, “if the same politicians who refused to act [in past decades] are going to try to come back today and say we need a middle of the road approach to save our lives.” 

Biden fired back on Tuesday, telling Ocasio-Cortez to “look at my record.” 

“You never heard me say middle of the road,” he told reporters while campaigning in New Hampshire. “I’ve never been middle of the road on the environment. Tell her to check the statement I made and look at my record.”

Ocasio-Cortez is a useful surrogate for the 77-year-old Sanders, even without an official endorsement.

Both are democratic socialists, and both are popular with young voters — a demographic where Sanders has an edge over Biden. 

Ocasio-Cortez has the ability to strengthen Sanders with such voters, and to pull in crowds and media attention for the senator battling with a host of other candidates to catch up to Biden.

“She would help attract even more supporters to the cause,” said one Sanders ally. “When she speaks, people listen.” 

It’s not clear that Ocasio-Cortez will endorse Sanders. She’s also signaled a fondness for Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE (D-Mass.). 

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“I’m very supportive of Bernie,” Ocasio-Cortez told Yahoo last month on a podcast. “I also think what Elizabeth Warren has been bringing to the table is truly remarkable.”

Democratic strategists say her support would help any Democratic candidate. 

“Anyone running should want her support,” said Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic strategist. “She’s a leader of the party and she's a fighter. When it comes to her endorsement, it would be a game changer for a lot of people running.”

In recent days, Sanders has been ratcheting up pressure on Biden, going after him on policies in an attempt to prove he’s not a progressive. 

“He’s not a progressive and that’s Bernie’s point,” said one Sanders ally.

“He’s going to keep hammering home that [Biden] is not the progressive he claims to be. Both of them have long legislative records. … There’s a clear contrast and differences in their voting records.”  

But with Biden surging in the polls, Sanders is hoping that the event with Ocasio-Cortez might give him a boost.

“He’s trying to tap into the political momentum and everything she’s bringing to the table right now,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley.

On Monday, when a CNN reporter asked how important Ocasio-Cortez’s voice is to the race, Sanders replied by saying she’s been “very, very active on this particular issue on the New Green Deal.”

But when the reporter inquired whether Sanders would ask for her endorsement, the senator ended the interview. 

“We’re talking about saving the planet and you’re trying to become political,” he told the reporter.