Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) endorsed state Del. Sam Rasoul’s bid for lieutenant governor of Virginia on Wednesday, handing the progressive contender a boost in a competitive primary.

Warren, who does not often wade into Democratic primaries, cited the four-term lawmaker’s record of fighting to expand Medicaid and raise the minimum wage, as well as his present support for guaranteed paid sick leave.

“Sam Rasoul is a hard worker who dreams big, fights hard, and gets results,” Warren said in a statement. “Sam is the passionate, progressive voice Virginians deserve.”

If elected, Rasoul, a lifelong Roanoke resident and son of Palestinian immigrants, would be one of the highest-ranking Muslim elected officials in the country.

Perhaps more important, as an economic populist and clean-energy advocate who backed Warren for president in 2020, Rasoul is both a political and ideological ally to the trust-busting senator.

“The truth is, voters don’t want more of the same-old status quo politics. They want real results that improve their lives,” he said in a statement. “As a proud Warren Democrat, I’ll be in the fight as Lieutenant Governor to bring Virginia back stronger than ever.”

Although lieutenant governors have limited power beyond presiding over the state Senate, the No. 2 post has historically been a springboard for higher office. That’s especially true because of Virginia’s unique rules forbidding governors from serving more than one consecutive term. The current governor, Ralph Northam, ascended to the top role after serving as lieutenant governor.

In addition, with polls showing moderate former Gov. Terry McAuliffe holding a sizable lead in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, Rasoul is viewed by many Virginia progressives as the left’s best shot at a big win this cycle.

Rasoul, a country music fan whose southwest Virginia roots are audible in his vowels, has nonetheless ruffled feathers in Richmond for his bluntness on the state’s pay-to-play politics. He elicited particular scorn for speaking candidly about the influence of the state’s storied utility monopolies, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, and for consistently fighting for greater accountability for ratepayers.

“We give the constitutional authority to the [regulatory agency] to protect the ratepayers, and then turn right around and pass a bill to peel back that very protection, it’s no wonder why people are frustrated,” he said in a 2018 speech denouncing an egregious giveaway to the utility companies. “It’s no wonder why we can really give no other explanation other than ‘This law was a corrupt law.’”

While Virginia has been trending blue for many years now, the state’s brand of Democratic Party politics remains relatively cautious and business-friendly. A win for Rasoul, who, as of a few weeks ago, had a fundraising edge over his competitors and polled at the head of the pack, would be a major shift.

That’s perhaps why the titans of the state’s Democratic establishment, including Northam, have rallied behind one of Rasoul’s less disruptive competitors: state Del. Hala Ayala of Prince William County.

Warren’s endorsement is timed to provide a counterweight to the recent surge of centrist support for Ayala. In backing Rasoul, she joins, among others, the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate action group; the progressive organization Our Revolution; Brenda Hale, the president of the Roanoke NAACP; and a host of current and former, state and local lawmakers.

Rasoul and Ayala are also competing against state Del. Mark Levine, attorney and civil rights activist Sean Perryman, Norfolk City Councilwoman Andria McClellan and businessman Xavier Warren.

Virginia’s Democratic primary is due to take place on June 8. The winner will face off against the state’s Republican nominee in the general election on Nov. 2.

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