Why Bernie Sanders is plunging into Atlanta’s mayoral race

With less than six weeks before the vote, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is headed to Atlanta to back former state Sen. Vincent Fort’s race for mayor.

The visit, announced last week by Fort, will be at Saturday at 3 p.m. at Saint Philips AME Church in Atlanta. Expect at least one other big-name guest to attend as well: Hip-hop artist Killer Mike, who has also endorsed Fort, is a Sanders acolyte.

Fort has made little secret that he's trying to model his bid to succeed Mayor Kasim Reed on Sanders' insurgent presidential campaign. He's called for the decriminalization of marijuana, free tuition at Atlanta city colleges and the end of special tax breaks for big developments.

Fort’s alliance with Sanders also earned him the wrath of some longtime party figures. He made a surprise endorsement of Sanders’ presidential bid in early 2016, which made him the highest-profile Democrat in Georgia to back his campaign - and alienated Clinton’s team.

In turn, Sanders gave Fort his full-throated endorsement in January, pushed several fundraising letters for the cash-strapped candidate earlier this year and, on Saturday, will make a personal pitch.

Will it matter? Fort is among about a dozen politicians in the running for mayor, and public polling shows he’s trailing a cadre of four top contenders. The muddled field has yet to crystallize, but most of the liberal candidates are competing with one another to break through.

His allies are unfazed; they say Fort’s core supporters are first-time and irregular voters who rarely show up in polling. (We should note that many trailing candidates make the same argument.) And they’re hoping Sanders can provide Fort’s campaign with a timely jolt.

Hillary Clinton overwhelmed Sanders in Georgia’s March 2016 primary - he lost Atlanta’s Fulton County by a whopping 42 points. But Sanders is enjoying a resurgence since Donald Trump’s victory.

Polls show his popularity has soared, and his policy priorities are gaining traction. He was the lone sponsor of a bill to provide universal healthcare four years ago. He introduced a similar version this month that attracted 16 co-sponsors – about one-third of the chamber’s Democratic caucus.

More recent mayoral coverage:

Business heavyweights weigh in on Atlanta's crowded mayor race

Police charge campaign volunteer with swiping Reed's provocative sign

Atlanta mayor’s race: A wide-open contest that will shape the region

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.