Sanders retracts endorsement of controversial congressional candidate

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday withdrew his endorsement of congressional candidate Cenk Uygur after pushback from supporters over Uygur’s previous controversial comments, as well as Uygur’s decision not to accept endorsements.

“As I said yesterday, Cenk has been a longtime fighter against the corrupt forces in our politics and he’s inspired people all across the country,” the Vermont independent said in a statement on Friday.

“However, our movement is bigger than any one person,” he added. “I hear my grassroots supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign, and I retract my endorsement.”

Uygur — who had already backed Sanders’ bid for president and is a candidate in the competitive race to replace Katie Hill in California’s 25th Congressional District — has built a following around his popular progressive talk show “The Young Turks,” which started as a radio program before becoming a well-watched YouTube channel.

But he was forced from the group Justice Democrats in 2017 after old blog posts were unearthed in which he objectified women. He had also made controversial comments on his program, including arguing that bestiality should be legal in some cases, demeaning the sex lives of lesbians and inviting former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke for a segment about his anti-Semitic view of Judaism. Uygur has disavowed some of these remarks, saying his views have changed. He told CNN’s Chris Cuomo last month that he had deleted past insensitive posts about women because they don’t reflect who he is years later

After Sanders declared his support on Thursday, Uygur announced Friday afternoon that he would not be accepting political endorsements because he “want(s) to be free—of any influence other than the voters of CA-25.”

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the endorsements of Bernie Sanders, Ro Khanna, Nina Turner & local progressive groups that gave me their support,” Uygur tweeted Friday, citing their “real courage in the face of the corporate media and Democratic establishment onslaught.”

He continued, “I will not be beholden to corporations, lobbyists, or special interest groups and I will not stand by while those groups attack my political allies. That’s why I have decided that I will not be accepting any endorsements.”

Sanders’ endorsement had drawn the ire of some of the senator’s supporters in California.

“I am a former member of the military, I am mixed-race black and brown, I am a member of the LGBTQ community and our party should never, ever, tolerate racist or homophobic comments of any kind, period,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the head of the California Young Democrats, which has endorsed Sanders.

He added that while they were disappointed in Sanders’ decision, it would not lead them to withdraw their support for his campaign but they hoped he would consider pulling the endorsement back.

Several candidates have submitted paperwork to run in the race, which will hold a jungle primary on March 3. In addition to Uygur and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the race includes George Papadopoulos — the former Trump aide who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI as part of the Robert Mueller special counsel probe into Russian influence on the 2016 US election.

CNN’s Ryan Nobles and Dan Merica contributed to this report.