Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and 2016 Democratic primary runner-up, whose populist policy agenda has helped push the party to the left, announced on Tuesday, February 19th that he was running for president again, embarking on a bid that would test whether he could retain the anti-establishment appeal he enjoyed with many liberal voters three years ago.
A self-styled democratic socialist whose calls for “Medicare for all,” a $15 minimum wage and zero college tuition and higher taxes on the rich, have become pillars of the party’s left wing, Mr. Sanders is among the best-known politicians to join an already crowded Democratic field and one of the most outspoken against President Trump, whom he has repeatedly called a “pathological liar” and a “racist.”
“Hi, I’m Bernie Sanders. I’m running for President,” Mr. Sanders said in a video and email sent to supporters on Tuesday, in which he also asked them to be part of an “unprecedented grassroots campaign”. Mr. Sanders had raised some $230 million, mostly through small donations in 2016.
“Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump, the most dangerous President in modern American history,” Mr Sanders said in the video. “ It is not only about winning the Democratic nomination and the general election. Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”
“Three years ago, during our 2016 campaign, when we brought forth our progressive agenda we were told that our ideas were ‘radical’ and ‘extreme,’” Mr. Sanders said on Tuesday in an early-morning email to supporters, citing those health, economic and education policies as well as combating climate change and raising taxes on wealthy Americans.
“Well, three years have come and gone. And, as result of millions of Americans standing up and fighting back, all of these policies and more are now supported by a majority of Americans,” he said.
The nature of the race has changed markedly in just three years. In 2016, Mr. Sanders was pushing progressive policies and his main opponent for the Democratic nomination, Hilary Clinton, was an establishment candidate. In 2020, Mr. Sanders will run in a less ideologically unique space — a result of his own policy agenda and presence on the national stage.
At least two of those who had endorsed Mr. Sanders previously — Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman from Hawaii, and author Marianne Williamson — will now compete with him for the Democratic ticket.
Sanders will start with several advantages, including the foundation of a 50-state organization; a massive lead among low-dollar donors that is roughly equivalent to the donor base of all the other Democratic hopefuls combined; and a cache of fervent, unwavering supporters. A coveted speaker, he is still capable of electrifying crowds in a way few politicians can. He enjoys wide name recognition, and several early polls on the 2020 race had Mr. Sanders running second behind former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“Our campaign is about taking on the powerful special interests that dominate our economic and political life. I’m talking about Wall Street, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex, the private prison industry, and the large multinational corporations that exert such an enormous influence over our lives,” said Mr. Sanders, who has projected himself as a candidate for working class Americans and against entrenched Washington interests.
Mr. Sanders referred to e-commerce giant Amazon paying “nothing in federal income taxes” and the “grotesque” income inequalities in American society. He called for an end to racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry and an end to voter suppression and gerrymandering [manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency in an electorally strategic manner].
“We are running against a President who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction,” Mr. Sanders said.
If he wins, Mr. Sanders , at 77, will be the oldest candidate on the Democratic ticket. Yet, he is highly popular among young voters and won the under-30 vote in 2016 against Ms. Clinton. However, Mr. Sanders fared badly last time with African American and women voters. Ms. Clinton won South Carolina — where some 60% of Democratic voters are black — by almost 50 points. Mr. Sanders visited South Carolina on Martin Luther King Jr. day at the end of January and met with lawmakers and others, and delivered a speech in honour of Dr. King.
There are other vulnerabilities in the Sanders campaign. His opponents will likely bring up his voting record on gun control — he received support from the NRA as a Congressman in 1990 for voting against wait times for those wanting to buy handguns. Mr. Sanders is also likely to be challenged on reports of harassment of female workers by their colleagues and pay disparities in the Sanders campaign in 2016.
“I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately, and of course, if I run we will do better the next time,” Mr. Sanders had said.
A recent Morning Consult nationwide poll of democratic primary voters put Mr. Sanders in second place, winning 22% of primary voters and behind former Vice-President Joe Biden (29%). Indian and African American candidate Kamala Harris came in third at 13%.