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Bernie Sanders admits he put his foot in his mouth.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

On Friday, the independent senator from Vermont released a statement clarifying his position on Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, whom Sanders had called “not a progressive” earlier this week:

Let me be very clear. It is imperative that Jon Ossoff be elected congressman from Georgia’s 6th District and that Democrats take back the U.S. House. I applaud the energy and grassroots activism in Jon’s campaign. His victory would be an important step forward in fighting back against Trump’s reactionary agenda.

If anything, it’s surprising Sanders didn’t issue this statement sooner. There’s no evidence he ever opposed Ossoff, but his “progressive” remark rankled Democrats, who see the Georgia race as their first chance to replace a Republican in Congress in the Trump era. “It is true that Ossoff’s platform isn’t staunchly progressive,” The New Republic’s Brian Beutler noted on Thursday. “But Ossoff also wasn’t running to anyone’s right. There was no more progressive option in the jungle primary on Tuesday—no one whom Sanders would have favored over Ossoff—and the race is now a choice between him and a Republican.”

Sanders doesn’t think of himself as a partisan. He explicitly refuses to call himself a Democrat, even as he’s working to “transform” the party in his progressive image—one of several reasons he stumbled during his unity tour this week with Democratic national chairman Tom Perez. But if he’s going to work with the party, he has to avoid alienating it needlessly—and that starts by not dismissing the one candidate that Democrats have reason to be excited about.