WASHINGTON – If endorsements were worth votes or campaign funds, Elizabeth Warren would have Arizona locked up for next week’s Democratic presidential primary.
But the Massachusetts senator, who got more endorsements from Arizona elected officials than any other presidential hopeful, suspended her campaign last week after disappointing finishes in early primary states.
Campaigns love to tout them, but David Barker, a professor and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said that endorsements “tend to matter a lot less than they used to.”
There are still notable exceptions: The endorsement last month by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., of former Vice President Joe Biden is largely credited for the commanding Feb. 29 win in South Carolina that revived Biden’s candidacy.
“Jim Clyburn was not really well known nationally, but is extremely influential within the African American community in South Carolina … and when he decided to finally throw his weight behind Biden, it had an enormous impact on the outcome,” Barker said.
He also said high-profile endorsements can help, crediting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., with giving a boost to the presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Arizona lawmakers have been busy offering endorsements in hopes of having a similar impact in the state’s presidential primary.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who endorsed Sanders in the 2016 election, shifted his allegiance to Warren last summer, praising her as a “bold, persistent, visionary leader who cares about working families.”
Grijalva was the highest-profile Warren supporter in the state, where endorsements also came from Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and Vice Mayor Paul Cunningham, Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias and Democratic state Reps. Isela Blanc, Pam Powers Hannley, Raquel Teran and Andres Cano.
Sanders has not landed a single endorsement in Arizona, but his support in the state has hovered steadily between 26% and 30% over the last two weeks, according to polling compiled by FiveThirtyEight. But the same polls show Biden’s support surging from 14.8% to 41.6% in that two-week period.
While a lack of endorsements does not appear to have hurt Sanders’ campaign, analysts say a sudden surge of support for the suddenly robust Biden campaign could help him in the state.
Paul Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy at political consulting firm HighGround, said he expects Democratic moderates who were worried about Sanders’s electability will start to come forward to support Biden. Bentz believes endorsements still carry weight.
“The person who is endorsing the candidate is lending them their support and credibility,” Bentz said, noting that endorsements are important in building momentum for a campaign and establishing a candidate.
Within days of Biden’s South Carolina comeback, his campaign got endorsements from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., from Democratic Senate hopeful Mark Kelly and from Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix.
Bentz said that support should help build Biden’s momentum “after a slow start.” He said having moderate politicians who are “standard-bearers for the swing areas of the state … I think bodes well for Biden and solidifies support.”
Sinema’s endorsement Wednesday praised Biden for his “track record of building bipartisan coalitions to achieve results,” while Kelly’s Monday endorsement said Biden “understands the challenges Arizonans face.”
Bentz said the surge of support for Biden is not surprising.
“I think everybody in the non-Bernie Sanders camp has been waiting to see who would rise above the fray, and sort of, hoping it was going to be Biden, but up until this point, it really hadn’t been so,” he said.
Other endorsements were short-lived: State Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, threw their endorsements to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week, just a day or two before Bloomberg suspended his campaign Wednesday and threw his support to Biden.
With more than 20 Democratic hopefuls dropping out in this campaign, there has been some shuffling. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, had endorsed California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who dropped out in July, before endorsing California Sen. Kamala Harris, who dropped in December. Gallego, generally considered a progressive, threw his support to Biden on Friday, just two days before Harris added her endorsement.
While endorsements are likely to continue as the primary approaches, most Arizona lawmakers have shied away from endorsing, and Bentz said he expects moderate politicians to continue “staying quiet or staying put.”