Sanders Lands First Senate Endorsement

Sen. Jeff Merkley backs the Vermont senator for president

Sen. Jeff Merkley, right, listens as Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks about the Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground Act of 2015 at a news conference last November. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Bernie Sanders landed his first Senate endorsement Wednesday morning in his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, getting support from Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.  

Merkley announced his endorsement of the Vermont independent in a New York Times op-ed , noting that the Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also has strong credentials.

"[Clinton] would be a strong and capable president," Merkley wrote. "But Bernie Sanders is boldly and fiercely addressing the biggest challenges facing our country."

Merkley appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to explain his endorsement, and was asked about the timing.

"This is just the right time for Oregon," Merkley explained. Oregon's Democratic primary is May 17.

According to Roll Call's Endorsement Tracker, 40 Senate Democrats have backed Clinton, including Merkley's Oregon counterpart, Ron Wyden. Clinton also leads in endorsements from the House, 160, compared to Sanders' eight.

Compared to the Republican Party, Democratic congressional endorsements carry weight, as lawmakers are counted among the party's super delegates, who are free to support whomever they choose at the convention.

Sanders trails Clinton in the delegate count, according to the New York Times, with 1,087 delegates compared to Clinton's 1,307. But Clinton has a greater advantage in the super delegates, with 469 who have pledged to support the former secretary, and 31 who have backed Sanders. But still, Merkley said Sanders should not be counted out.

"I think anything's possible in a campaign," Merkley said. "Obviously the math is an uphill climb, but we've been surprised by campaigns time and time again."

"This really is about the person who has the boldest, most fierce vision on the biggest issues facing America and the world," Merkley added, citing Sanders' stances on trade, global warming and campaign finance.

Contact Bowman at  bridgetbowman@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at @bridgetbhc .

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