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Abdul El-Sayed, the upstart Democrat who ran to the left of Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan's 2018 gubernatorial primary, is endorsing Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to be the country's next president.

In an interview, El-Sayed said he decided to formally back Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination because Sanders has been "consistent" on key issues and because of the way he's driven conversations on corruption, economic justice and initiatives like Medicare for All.

"All of those conversations we're having because of Bernie Sanders," El-Sayed said, "because of his courage in 2016, because of his courage in 2020."

El-Sayed of Ann Arbor is a doctor and the former director of the Detroit Health Department. In 2018, he ran for governor as a progressive outsider. His campaign didn't accept corporation contributions, and he proposed making Michigan the first state in the nation with its own Medicare-for-all government health insurance system.

El-Sayed's 2018 campaign scored endorsements from Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Ultimately, El-Sayed finished second with 30% of the vote in the Democratic primary, behind Whitmer's 52%.

Since the election, El-Sayed has been working on a book with the title "Healing Politics" and has begun hosting a podcast called "America Dissected," which covers health-related topics.

While El-Sayed said his endorsement wasn't a "foregone conclusion," he noted that Sanders took a chance by endorsing "a 33-year-old Muslim guy named Abdul" in 2018. It was a risk El-Sayed hasn't forgotten.

Sanders is one of at least 17 Democratic candidates running for their party's presidential nomination in 2020. While Sanders upset Hillary Clinton in Michigan's 2016 primary, some Democrats believe the crowded field could make winning Michigan more difficult this time around.

Other candidates, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are working hard to win over progressive voters who backed Sanders in 2016.

Warren has offered her own Medicare for All proposal, funded by imposing taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals, but specifically not the middle class, according to the Associated Press.

El-Sayed said while he admires Warren, there are a number of pieces to Warren's plan, including the new taxes on the wealthy, that could be hurdles to implementing her version of Medicare for All.

Meanwhile, he said people in Michigan are worried about their health care failing them, and Sanders has made the issue a priority. El-Sayed added that he doesn't see asking people to pay more in taxes to get more benefits as a "great evil." 

"Bernie speaks to the urgency of this moment for people," El-Sayed said.

While Sanders has now received endorsements from U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and El-Sayed, Warren has gained support from former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer and U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is backing former Vice President Joe Biden, and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, has endorsed California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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