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Sanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally

Sanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally
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Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Sanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Progressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal MORE (I-Vt.) is seeking to bounce back in the Democratic presidential primary with an assist from one of the left's brightest starts, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezProgressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal Rubio and Ocasio-Cortez spar on Twitter: 'Work more, tweet less' Harry Styles hits back at criticism over wearing dress on Vogue cover MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sanders will return to the campaign trail on Saturday in the New York City borough of Queens for the first time since he suffered a heart attack. 

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He'll be with Ocasio-Cortez, who’s expected to endorse him at the event.

Sanders appeared to be losing momentum in the race even before his health problems, so the Queens stop is an important moment for the progressive firebrand to both reassure his supporters and tell the world he's ready to take on the other top-tier candidates — particularly Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCan Biden find a third way between Trumpism and Obama-era globalism? Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity Schwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration MORE (D-Mass.).

The timing of the Ocasio-Cortez endorsement suggests Sanders’s team felt it needed a burst. News of her expected support churned up positive headlines for the campaign at a time when it needed some good press.

“Having someone like AOC promoting someone like Bernie Sanders might energize a lot of younger people to vote,” said Raffi Mercuri, the chairman of the local Democratic Party in Boulder County, Colo.

“A lot of people see her as the exemplar for what the Democratic Party should stand for," he added. "A lot of people see her as someone who is untainted by a long stint in Washington, who’s got by just by speaking her truth; someone who’s just a woman of the people.”

Mercuri added that Ocasio-Cortez’s influence among Democrats, particularly younger ones, was on display last month when she spoke at the party’s annual Truman Dinner.

The event, held at the University of Colorado Boulder, sold out almost immediately after tickets went on sale, Mercuri said. Organizers eventually opened up an overflow room for those who were unable to get in to the dinner itself.

A CBS News/YouGov poll released in July showed that Ocasio-Cortez is viewed most favorably by voters who described themselves as liberal, a voting bloc with whom Sanders also performs well.

Mercuri added that he was not surprised by Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to back Sanders over Warren, noting that the freshman congresswoman was an organizer for Sanders during his 2016 presidential bid.

“Obviously, this was probably a decision between Warren and Bernie and she came out for Bernie,” he said. “We all know she was a Bernie organizer in 2016 and she’s been on that persuasion for a long time. It’s not really surprising.”

Sanders’s allies are also encouraged by his performance at the three-hour Democratic primary debate in Westerville, Ohio, on Tuesday night, viewing it as a high-stakes return to form, even if Warren was the central figure on stage.

Among Sanders’s allies, there is cautious optimism. Besides Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders will also be backed by Reps. Ilhan OmarIlhan Omar'It's not a slogan': Progressives push back on Obama's comments on 'defund the police' movement Meet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE (D-Minn.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibProgressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (D-Mich.), who along with the New York Democrat belong to a group widely referred to as the "Squad."

“Bernie has always been in a very strong position to win, with a loyal base that isn’t leaving him, defining issues people care about and a pile of cash,” said progressive strategist Jonathan Tasini, who supports Sanders.

“That said, I’m always skeptical, for any candidate, that a single rally or an endorsement matter and you’d be hard-pressed to fill a room with people who support the three great congresswomen but who didn’t already support Bernie so I’m eager to see how this expands his voter base.”

Sanders will also be backed by the largest bank account in the race, ensuring he’ll have the resources he needs to build out a campaign team and flood the early-voting states with advertisements in the four-month sprint to the Iowa caucuses.

And there are no signs that Sanders’s small-dollar fundraising machine is slowing down. Sanders raised $25.3 million in the third quarter of the year, more than any other candidate in the race, and reported having $33.7 million on hand at the end of the quarter.

By comparison, Warren had $25.7 million in the bank, while South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegJuan Williams: Clyburn is my choice as politician of the year 'Biff is president': Michael J. Fox says Trump has played on 'every worst instinct in mankind' Buttigieg: Denying Biden intelligence briefings is about protecting Trump's 'ego' MORE reported $23 million, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden officially clinches Electoral College votes with California certification Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Trump campaigns as wild card in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-Calif.) reported $10.5 million and Biden reported just under $9 million.

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Still, Sanders faces new challenges as he embarks on this second phase of his second run for the White House.

His polling numbers have largely stagnated in recent months, especially in a handful of early state surveys. And he conceded earlier this month that he would slow down his pace on the campaign trail in the wake of his heart attack, a stunning concession at a time when candidates typically ramp up their travel and event schedules.

Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement could also become a liability in a general election, when he would have to court a broader pool of voters.

Among self-described moderates, the CBS News/YouGov poll found only 16 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Ocasio-Cortez, while 28 percent said they viewed her unfavorably and 25 percent said they were neutral.

Republicans, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE, have sought to tie the Democratic Party in its entirety to Ocasio-Cortez and the “Squad,” using the group of Congress members as a kind of proxy for the liberal proposals that they have dubbed socialistic.

Some Democrats expressed doubts that the endorsement will do much to change Sanders’s political fortunes.

Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Social media responds to Harris making history: 'I feel like our ancestors are rejoicing' MORE (D-N.Y.), said that Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance at Sanders’s rally on Saturday would give his campaign a short-lived media boost, but that it would do little to give him the sustained momentum he needs ahead of the first primaries and caucuses.

“Certainly every camera is going to be there on Saturday,” Reinish said. “But does it change one single vote? That’s the ultimate question and I don’t see it doing so.”