RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders endorsed Tom Perriello Tuesday in Virginia governor's race, saying progressives must be elected "at every level of government if we are going to beat back the dangerous agenda of the Trump administration and its Republican allies."
The endorsement is Perriello's highest profile to date. Support from the Vermont senator's loyalists could give Perriello's insurgent campaign a boost against the state party's establishment pick, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, in the June Democratic primary.
Entering the race in January behind in money and without the help of state party leaders, Perriello has looked to raise his profile by lining up endorsements of prominent national Democrats. Top aides to former President Barack Obama as well as Hillary Clinton's former campaign chairman, John Podesta, have backed Perriello recently.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only states set to elect governors this year, and the contest in the Old Dominion is attracting broad national attention. The Northam-Perriello contest highlights ongoing tensions among Democrats around the country as the party struggles with how best to respond to President Donald Trump and his agenda.
Both Perriello and Northam have been outspoken critics of the new Republican president, but Perriello has made Trump opposition more of a focal point of his campaign.
After his failed 2016 presidential campaign, Sanders promised that the progressive political movement he inspired would endure. His supporters have since been active in contests around the country.
On Tuesday, Sanders praised Perriello's call to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, opposition to fracked gas pipelines and rejection of contributions from big utilities. Perriello has said he won't take campaign contributions from Dominion Resources, an energy giant that has unmatched sway in Virginia politics.
Perriello said he was proud to receive Sanders' endorsement.
"Bernie has electrified a movement of Americans ready to take on our biggest challenges, including inequality and corruption," Perriello said.
The Northam campaign reacted to Sanders' endorsement by pointing to the lieutenant governor's broad support among elected Democrats in Virginia, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Del. Marcia Price, the only state legislator to endorse Sanders, is also backing Northam.
Northam's progressive bona fides include leading "the fight to ban smoking in restaurants, to prevent the transvaginal ultrasound mandate, and to push for stronger gun safety legislation," said campaign spokesman David Turner.
The Perriello campaign said Sanders will campaign Thursday with Perriello in northern Virginia. Jeff Weaver, who managed Sanders' presidential campaign and now runs the offshoot Our Revolution group, said the nonprofit has not yet made an endorsement but is watching the Virginia race closely.