Vulnerable Democrats fret over surging Sanders

House Democrats who know a thing or two about winning in the most competitive parts of the country are sounding the alarm about Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden will help close out Texas Democrats' virtual convention: report Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Gabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton MORE (I-Vt.) potentially becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

Vulnerable House Democrats are not only pessimistic about the Vermont senator’s chances against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump marks 'very sad milestone' of 100K coronavirus deaths DOJ: George Floyd death investigation a 'top priority' Lifting our voices — and votes MORE, they worry he could also cost Democrats the House majority in November.

Freshman Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), co-chair of the centrist Blue Dogs, said he won’t back Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenLongtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor MORE (D-Mass.) for president, telling The Post-Standard editorial board in Syracuse that their policies “don’t necessarily align with my beliefs” and it would be “exceedingly difficult” for either candidate to win on Election Day. 

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Another centrist, freshman Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsBipartisan senators introduce bill to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program The Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice Biden asks Klobuchar to undergo vetting as potential running mate MORE (D-Minn.), said he has significant doubts that Sanders or Warren could beat Trump in swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan that will play a decisive role in the 2020 election.

And Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The American Investment Council - Trump, Pence tested, in more ways than one House Democrats press Pelosi for automatic unemployment insurance and food stamp extensions Issa advances in bid to fill Hunter's vacant House seat MORE (D-Calif.) warned that having Sanders at the top of the ticket would be an electoral disaster that could put the “House majority at risk.”

The dire warnings from moderate Democrats have become more urgent and aggressive as Sanders fought to a virtual tie with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBiden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Here's how Biden can win over the minority vote and the Rust Belt MORE in Iowa and appeared poised to win the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.

Democrats are particularly uneasy about a party standard-bearer who labels himself a “democratic socialist,” as Sanders does.

“Sanders is about the worst candidate we can put up. He not only won’t likely win the presidency; he puts the House majority at risk,” Peters, who has endorsed former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Liberals embrace super PACs they once shunned .7 billion expected to be spent in 2020 campaign despite coronavirus: report MORE (D) and represents a district that’s become bluer in recent years.

“I will support Bernie Sanders if he is nominated against Donald Trump; I will do so enthusiastically,” Peters told The Hill on Tuesday, while adding “I don’t think … putting a socialist on the ballot is a good strategy to defeat Donald Trump.”

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Freshman Rep. Max RoseMax RoseGun control group rolls out House endorsements Max Rose calls on Trump to use Defense Production Act to ensure small businesses have PPE 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.), whose Staten Island district went for Trump by about 10 points in 2016, also sought to distance himself from any socialist label.

“I’m not a socialist. I’m thinking about printing T-shirts saying as much. I think socialist economic policies fail, inevitably,” said Rose, another Bloomberg backer.

Asked how Sanders would likely play in his district, Rose predicted “probably not very well.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who faces a primary challenge from the left this cycle, also expressed trepidation about the prospect of having Sanders as the standard-bearer.

“I'm a Democrat," Cuellar said Tuesday. "I think it would be difficult to have a socialist at the top of the ticket. I think he clarifies it and says 'a democratic socialist,' but a socialist is a socialist, whether it's Republican socialist or democratic socialist, if there is such a thing."

Most frontline Democrats have not endorsed anyone for president. But former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenLifting our voices — and votes Longtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick Biden will help close out Texas Democrats' virtual convention: report MORE leads with nine endorsements from Democrats representing competitive districts, while Bloomberg is quickly catching up, notching five as of Tuesday.

One GOP target, freshman Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), has backed Warren. Sanders, however, has yet to secure an endorsement from a Democratic lawmaker in a swing district.

Another frontline freshman, Phillips of Minnesota, is backing his home-state senator, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLongtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 MORE (D-Minn.). Asked if a Sanders nomination would give him heartburn, Phillips joked: “You mean heart-Bernie?”

“I’m not going to disparage, I’m not going to prognosticate. But yes, I’m concerned about someone who, in the six states that really matter in this election, could change the outcome of an election that we should win,” Phillips told The Hill. “It causes concern if it is not a candidate who can generate the independent and even moderate Republican support we’re going to need to replace Donald Trump."

And Phillips agreed with Peters's prediction that a Sanders nomination would create a detrimental “down-ballot effect” for congressional Democrats.

One vulnerable Democrat put it this way: “There is a fear in the caucus that if it’s not a ‘B’ or a ‘K’ at the top of the ticket — Biden, Buttigieg, Bloomberg or Klobuchar — we’re in real trouble.”

Sanders’s top surrogates on Capitol Hill argued it’s shortsighted for Democrats like Brindisi to declare they won’t back the Vermont senator.

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“The stakes are way too high in this election. I’m not going to huff and puff if my candidate doesn’t secure the nomination,” freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezRecovery First: The American comeback shouldn't hinge on warmed-over policy agendas Ocasio-Cortez blames 'political power' of police for lack of accountability following George Floyd's death The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP beset by convention drama MORE (D-N.Y.), who also describes herself as a democratic socialist, told The Hill on Tuesday. “I think we need to be mature enough to recognize the threat that is coming from the White House and come together behind the eventual nominee, no matter who that is.”

Campaigning alongside Sanders just a day earlier in New Hampshire, Ocasio-Cortez made the case for why Sanders is in the best position to beat Trump: Sanders, she argued, has tapped into a massive political movement against "hate" and "divisiveness."

“We are at a crossroads in our democracy … and that is why we need to nominate someone with a political revolution at their back, with decades of organizing bringing us to this moment,” Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

“It is not going to be any one candidate that defeats Donald Trump; it’s going to be a movement of Americans that defeat Donald Trump in a rejection of hatred and an embracing of love,” she added.

Despite their clear misgivings, many vulnerable freshman Democrats were reluctant to follow Brindisi’s lead and say they would refuse to back Sanders or Warren. Rep. Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillGun control group rolls out House endorsements Bipartisan Senate group offers new help to state, local governments Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary MORE (D-N.J.) said she will stand with the eventual nominee of her party, as will Rep. Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaGun control group rolls out House endorsements The Hill's Campaign Report: DOJ, intel to be major issues in 2020 House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting MORE (D-Va.).

“I am behind whoever wins the nomination,” Luria, a Biden backer, told The Hill. “I don’t like some of their policies, but, you know.”

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Freshman Rep. Haley StevensHaley Maria StevensGun control group rolls out House endorsements Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Hurd says China engaged in global disinformation campaign; US unemployment highest since Great Depression MORE (D-Mich.), who has endorsed Bloomberg, said she will follow the former New York City mayor’s lead if he doesn’t secure the nomination.

“Should he not get the nomination,” she said, “we will support whoever does to defeat this president.”

A reporter on Tuesday asked Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosGOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts Republican flips House seat in California special election GOP's Don Bacon and challenger neck and neck in Democratic poll MORE (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of House Democrats’ campaign arm who represents a district that Trump won in 2016, how many of her members had approached her saying they were worried about Sanders.

Bustos paused for a full 5 seconds before answering. 

“We have discussions about the nominee, but it runs the gamut,” she said.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.