New York (AFP) – Firebrand Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Saturday at the septuagenarian’s first campaign event since a heart attack earlier this month.
“I call him ‘tio Bernie’,” Ocasio-Cortez, 30, said at a rally in her Queens, New York constituency.
“Tio” means “uncle” in Spanish, the language of Puerto Rico where Ocasio-Cortez has roots.
She is the youngest House of Representatives member and considers herself a “Democratic socialist,” as does Sanders who has been in Congress since 1991.
Ocasio-Cortez joined her fellow first-year congresswoman Ilhan Omar, another symbol of the new Democratic guard, in endorsing Sanders on Tuesday.
Both women are members of what they call “The Squad,” an outspoken, leftist group of four rookie, youthful and racially diverse Congresswomen whom the president has accused of hating America.
Earlier this year, he told them to “go back” to other countries — though they are all US citizens.
“The only reason that I had any hope in launching a long-shot campaign for Congress is because Bernie Sanders proved that you can run a grassroots campaign and win,” Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd.
Sanders, 78, is known for consistently refusing political financing from corporations.
“When I was a waitress, and when it was time for me to graduate college with student debt, Bernie Sanders was one of the only ones that said no person should be graduating with life-crushing debt,” she said in an impassioned speech.
“We right now have one of the best Democratic presidential primary fields in a generation, and much of that is thanks to work that Bernie Sanders has done in his entire life,” she added.
Moments later, on the same stage, the white-haired Vermont senator said of his much-younger colleague: “It is hard to believe the degree to which she has transformed politics in America.”
Omar, 38, the first black Muslim woman elected to Congress, said earlier this week in her endorsement of the Jewish Sanders that “Bernie is leading a working-class movement to defeat Donald Trump that transcends generation, ethnicity and geography.”
The Democratic primary field consists of 19 candidates, 12 of whom took part in a debate on Tuesday. Sanders is running third behind Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
Battling to catch up in the polls with Warren, the Sanders campaign is hoping for a boost from these shows of support.
Sanders has tried to woo younger and more racially diverse supporters, winning the endorsement of the rap artist Cardi B, who is from the Bronx, another New York borough that Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional district partially comprises.
The first round of voting will take place February, in Iowa.