Bernie Sanders defied expectations with long-shot presidential campaign – USA TODAY
Bernie Sanders is expected to officially endorse Hillary Clinton after withholding his support for weeks. His campaign has shifted Democratic policy.
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WASHINGTON âÂ Who would have thought, just over a year ago, that a gruffÂ septuagenarian with unruly hair and democratic socialist viewsÂ would captureÂ the imaginations of young people and support fromÂ more than 13Â million voters in a long-shot bid for the presidency?
Bernie SandersÂ was at least 50 points behind Hillary Clinton in some national polls when he announced his candidacyÂ for the Democratic presidential nominationÂ in April 2015. But his call for a “political revolution” quickly gained momentum on social media, igniting a “feel the Bern” fever that ultimately drew nearly 1.5 million people to hisÂ rallies and other events across the country.
Clintonâs nomination may indeedÂ have been inevitable, but Sandersâ surprisingÂ star power made it seem much less so.
âHe got a tiger by the tail,â said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, which supported Sanders. âAll of a sudden, he emerges on the scene and he became an immediate legend. People didnât know who he was.â
Nearly a month after the District of Columbia held the final contest of the 2016 primary season,Â Sanders will campaign on Tuesday with Clinton in New Hampshire, where he is expected to finally endorse her after weeks of pressure to do so. He hasÂ held out on his official backing, using his leverage to advanceÂ goals he laid outÂ for his legions of supporters in a live, online address last month.
Among those goals:Â defeating presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, working with Clinton to “transform” the Democratic Party, and encouraging like-minded progressives to run for public office âÂ from school boards to Congress. Within 24 hours of that appeal, nearly 11,000 of his supporters expressed interest on BernieSanders.com.
“My hope is that when future historians look back and describe how our country moved forward into reversing the drift toward oligarchy, and created a government which represents all the people and not just the few, they will note that, to a significant degree, that effort began with the political revolution of 2016,” Sanders said in his address.
Before last year,Â Sanders’ outrage over the âbillionaire classâÂ might have been captured onlyÂ on C-SPAN and left-leaning news shows. But his presidential runÂ changed that.
Sanders won 22 states andÂ 45% of the pledged delegates, and he consistently led Clinton overwhelmingly among 18-29-year-olds. His campaign drew aÂ record 8.2 million individual contributions from about 2.5 million donors, raising aboutÂ $228Â millionÂ largely through fundraising emails to supporters.
He railed against a “rigged economy” and a “corrupt” campaign finance system.Â And he elevatedÂ “yuge”Â ideas â in a thick Brooklyn accent âÂ long important to progressives,Â including a $15 minimum wage, breaking up big banks,Â free public college, MedicareÂ for all,Â an expansion of Social Security and a carbon tax to aggressively tackle climate change.
Sanders’ influence became obvious over the past week,Â whenÂ Clinton proposed expanding access toÂ health care and eliminatingÂ collegeÂ tuition for working families,Â and when national Democrats changed the party’sÂ platform to incorporate his ideas. Sanders said those changesÂ make the platform the most progressive in the party’s history.
âHe ran a campaign from the heart,â Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said on MSNBCâs Rachel Maddow ShowÂ on June 9, after endorsing Clinton. âHe took these issues and he really thrust them into the spotlight. And he brought millions of people into the political process.â
Sandersâ ascendancy surprised him as much anyone. When his communications director told him in September that a poll showed him leading Clinton by 10 points in Iowa, Sanders stepped away from the table where he had been sittingÂ with a look of shock, caught his breath and whisperedÂ âJesus.â
âWe didnât have a strategy to win this when we started,â said Tad Devine, one of Sandersâ top strategists. âWe were just trying to be competitive. We were trying to be taken seriously.â
As the campaign began to gain on Clinton, the focus changed to winning Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Sanders did win New Hampshire â hisÂ vote total there set a record âÂ but Clinton edged him out out in Iowa and defeated him in Nevada. And in South Carolina, the senator from mostly white Vermont couldnât overcome Clintonâs long-standing support among African Americans. He acknowledged beingÂ âdecimatedâ in the state.
âPlan B was, âHow do we stay alive so that we can have a chance to win this thing?ââ Devine said.
Sanders targeted only five of the 11Â states with March 1 nominating contests and won four. A surprise win in Michigan on March 8 and a string of seven victories in other states in late March and early April added to the campaign’sÂ momentum. But a path to the nomination already looked mathematically impossible.
In hindsight, Devine said the campaign could have staffed early-voting states sooner and more aggressively. But at the time, raising enough money through small donations seemed to someÂ like an âimpossible goal.â
DeMoro said Sanders may have cost himself opportunities. For example, he spent a lot ofÂ time campaigning in the South, even though Clintonâs âfirewallâ of support among AfricanÂ Americans there was widely acknowledged. And Sanders passed on anÂ easy target byÂ telling the nation during an Oct. 13 debate with Clinton that Americans were sick of hearing about her âdamn emails,â a reference to her use of a private email server as secretary of state.
âA normal politician would have taken the easy, low-hanging fruit â the email scandal,â DeMoroÂ said. âHe wanted to have a debate on policy.â
But Sanders showed he wasnât afraid to play hardball.
At campaign rallies, he targetedÂ Clintonâs donations from Wall Street and other special interests, andÂ called on herÂ to release transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and other corporations.Â Ahead of the New York primary, he alleged that Clinton wasn’t qualified to be president â a statementÂ he later walked back â after Clinton declined to say whetherÂ she thought Sanders was qualified.
Sanders also spent much of the campaignÂ feuding with the Democratic National Committee and its chairwoman,Â Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. He and the DNC clashedÂ over the Democratic debate schedule,Â access to a DNC voter database, andÂ a joint fundraising agreement between the DNC and Clinton. Sanders also attackedÂ Wasserman Schultz for appointing âaggressive attack surrogatesâ for Clinton as co-chairs of key national convention committees.
Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and a Sanders surrogate, said thereâs always been a sense among Sanders’ supporters that the âestablishmentâ â whether itâs the DNC, Clinton or her supporters â sees him as âa cute annoyance that they never expected to come this far.â
âOnce he did show his strength, itâs, âOK, weâve got to deal with thisâ and the way heâs been dealt with has been unfair,â Turner said in May.
After Wasserman SchultzÂ slammed the way Sanders responded toÂ his supportersâ disruptive behavior at the Nevada Democratic Convention in May, Sanders said she wouldn’t be reappointedÂ to chair the DNC ifÂ he became president. He also raised money for Wasserman Schultz’sÂ primary opponent, Tim Canova, a move that Rep. Luis GutiÃ©rrez of Illinois, a Clinton supporter, described as a âreally big mistake.”
Sanders began to shift fundraising efforts in May to help other progressive candidates for Congress and state-level offices,Â with more than $2.5 million raised for 21 candidates as of June 20.
“The day that he endorsed me, we raised a quarter-of-a-million (dollars) in one day, and in a little over five months, we raised over $2 million,” saidÂ Canova, a law professor. “It did give us a boost.Â I get endorsed by Bernie and immediately Iâm on MSNBC, and CNN and Fox.”
On June 14, the day the District of Columbia held its primary, Sanders called for new leadership at the DNC as part of a “fundamental transformation” of the party. He also called for open primaries in which independents could vote for Democrats and for doing away with superdelegates, the party leaders and elected officials who can vote for the candidate of their choice at the convention â and who backed Clinton by a huge margin.
Senate Democrats gave him a warm welcome and standing ovation that day, when he spoke behind closed doors to his colleagues at their weekly luncheon, according to those who attended.
âBernie is going to be good for the party,â Senate Minority Leader HarryÂ Reid of Nevada said after his June 9 meeting with Sanders. âIâm confident he will be a good campaigner for Democratic senators and for the Democratic nominee.â