CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won West Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary in 2016, became a part of this year’s Senate contest with an endorsement of Paula Jean Swearengin on Thursday.
Sanders, I-Vt., announced his support less than four months before Election Day and as Swearengin remains an underdog against incumbent Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
“It’s hard to overestimate the power of Paula Jean becoming West Virginia’s next senator. If a strong progressive like her represented a state with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, it would be a significant moment in our fight to transform our country so it works for all of us,” Sanders said in a press release.
Swearengin, who backed Sanders’ two presidential bids, told MetroNews she is excited about Sanders’ endorsement and working to unite Democrats ahead of November.
“This is about being servants to the people and making sure we are truly represented,” she said. “This is about the needs of the people in Appalachian and making sure we do have economic diversity, long-term solutions to the addiction epidemic and we do have true representation.”
Swearengin defeated former state Sen. Richard Ojeda and former South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb in last month’s primary contest. Ojeda and Robb have since announced their support for Swearengin’s campaign.
Sanders won West Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary four years ago and has stopped in the state multiple times since 2016. Sanders visited West Virginia multiple times in 2017 to lead rallies against the Senate’s attempts to replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Swearengin has credited Sanders for motivating “ordinary people” to run for office. Her 2018 bid for the U.S. Senate ended with a primary loss to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Capito is favored to win a second term; Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia ranks the contest as “safe Republican” and Inside Election rates the race as “solid Republican.”
The senator also holds a financial advantage over Swearengin; her campaign has collected $3 million from contributors with $3.1 million in cash on hand this election cycle compared to Swearengin’s campaign with $335,811 in contributions and around $29,000 in cash on hand.
All of the contributions to Swearengin are individual contributions compared to around 56% of Capito’s total contributions.
“Our campaign is 100% people funded,” Swearengin said. “If I go to Washington, I’ll owe nobody except the people that got me there.”
The Capito campaign did not respond to a request for comment.