U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders brought his strategy of trying to reenergize the Democratic Party by lending his star power to lower-level races to a small city just outside Boston on Monday, with a stop to endorse candidates for alderman and city council.
Sanders, an independent who ran for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2016 presidential election, announced his support for a dozen candidates backed by "Our Revolution" a group formed by supporters of Sanders' campaign to boost progressive, liberal candidates.
It is unusual for a politician with Sanders' profile to weigh in on races with no serious Republican contenders, political observers said.
"The local level, more than any other level, is a way to involve people in the political process," Sanders said in Somerville, Massachusetts, a city of 80,000 people.
Sanders last week pointed to the appearance as one of a series to try to build enthusiasm for lower-level elections. Sanders served four terms as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, before being elected to the Senate.
His remarks on Monday mirrored his 2016 stump speeches, without directly addressing the candidates he was supporting in Somerville and neighboring Cambridge.
Political observers said Sanders, and the candidates he endorsed, will face a challenge in translating the enthusiasm his campaign generated into votes for lower-level races.
In the city's last municipal election that followed a presidential race, one-in-four registered voters, some 10,241 people, cast ballots. Three out of four who voted in last year's Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential matchup.
"Sanders envisioned his candidacy as a launching pad for nothing short of a revolution within the Democratic Party," said Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science at nearby Tufts University. "The energy is more around 'How do we fight Trump' than it is 'How do we create a Democratic Party in the image of Bernie Sanders.'"
Sanders may not need to tip too many voters to influence the typically low-turnout city races. In the 2013 ward races, just two candidates secured more than 1,000 votes and the four closest races were decided by an average of 166 votes.
"It's definitely a draw and I think it's important that he is supporting local candidates," said Ellora Derenoncourt, a 30-year-old graduate student who was out to show her support for alderman candidate J.T. Scott, a gym owner in his first race.
The event did attract some undecided voters who said Sanders' endorsement would sway their picks among fields of Democratic candidates.
"Our country has moved so far to their right since the mid-90s that just being a Democrat doesn't necessarily qualify you as a liberal or progressive," said Pamela Massey, 59, of Cambridge.
Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who serves as president of Our Revolution, acknowledged that the group faced a challenge in drumming up enthusiasm for down-ticket races.
"We have to try," Turner said. "We have to remind people that they have an obligation to participate and so often the level of vitriol that is put out the national level can have a negative effect."
(Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Grant McCool)