Bernie Sanders drops out of presidential race, making Joe Biden the Democrats’ presumptive nominee

April 8, 2020 in News, Video by RBN Staff

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Liz Goodwin  

WASHINGTON — Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced Wednesday that he is dropping out of the Democratic presidential race, after weeks of clinging to an all-but-impossible path to victory over his moderate rival Joe Biden in a race now frozen by the coronavirus crisis.

Sanders thanked his supporters for helping the country take a “major step forward” in progressives’ quest to address inequality, but said that he had made the “difficult and painful” decision to end his campaign.

“While we are winning the ideological battle and while we are winning this support of so many young people and working people throughout the country, I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful,” Sanders said in a livestream address to his supporters Wednesday.

Sanders called Biden, who is now the presumptive Democratic nominee, a “decent man” on Wednesday, but did not explicitly endorse him. Sanders has said consistently he would endorse the Democratic nominee if he did not win the primary. Biden has been behaving as if the general election is already underway since a spree of decisive victories in early March, and he recently informed Sanders he was already beginning the search for his vice president.

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“The future of this country is with our ideas,” Sanders told his supporters Wednesday, noting that he won majorities of voters under 30 years old and even under 50 in contests against Biden. The progressive said he would remain on the ballot in future contests to continue amassing delegates to exert leverage over the party’s platform, but acknowledged he could not in “good conscience” continue a losing campaign while the coronavirus crisis is affecting the country.

Biden released a lengthy statement praising Sanders’ efforts and appealing to his backers. “To your supporters, I make the same commitment: I see you, I hear you, and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country,” Biden said.

Sanders, a democratic socialist who rose to prominence challenging Hillary Clinton in 2016, amassed the biggest financial war chest in the Democratic primary — powered by more than 1.5 million small-dollar donors — and shifted the race’s center of gravity to the left with his populist rhetoric targeting millionaires and billionaires. Despite suffering a heart attack last October, he attracted thousands of passionate young fans at rallies around the country, and became the race’s front-runner after winning the New Hampshire and Nevada primaries in February.

But Sanders, 78, faced a stunning reversal of fortune after former vice president Biden, 77, won by a landslide in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29 and swept most states voting on Super Tuesday on March 3, amassing a delegate lead that Sanders was unable to surpass before the coronavirus outbreak postponed numerous contests. Sanders made inroads with Latino voters that helped him win the delegate-rich state of California, but he was unable to make up his deficit with Black and suburban voters.

In recent weeks, Sanders had ceased fund-raising for his presidential bid entirely and effectively shut down his campaigning. He instead raised millions for coronavirus aid efforts and publicly pushed for expanded workers’ rights and universal health care to combat the crisis.

Democratic Party insiders fretted that his continued candidacy was hurting the future nominee, as some in Sanders’ circle sharply criticized Biden’s lack of visibility and skills as a candidate. But Sanders’ allies said the progressive wanted to stay in the fight to continue to gain leverage for his movement and ensure the party’s platform continues to lean left when it’s hashed out this summer.

Sanders’ decision to drop out cedes the nomination to Biden, who will face President Trump in November. The president has attempted to stir up resentment among Sanders fans in the past, calling the primary “rigged” against him on Twitter. Privately, Trump appeared to fear running against Biden more, even pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter in a covert effort that led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

“Can’t see AOC plus 3 supporting Sleepy Joe!” Trump tweeted shortly after Sanders’ address, referring to the liberal members of the House, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed Sanders.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders addresses a news conference in Burlington, Vermont. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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The departure of Sanders is also a moment of reckoning for the progressive movement, which had been rejoicing over how his policy proposals like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and free college entered the party’s mainstream after his 2016 run. But in a year when most Democrats said beating Trump was their top priority, Biden ended up capturing more voters with a message of “restoring” the soul of the nation than Sanders did with a call for revolution and systemic change.

Many of Sanders’ allies believe he was inundated with unfair attacks after his Nevada win, with dozens of superdelegates telling the New York Times they would oppose his nomination even if he won a plurality of delegates and some Democrats and pundits warning he would lose to Trump because he’s too far to the left. Those supporters see this as a manifestation of deep opposition from the corporate “establishment” that Sanders often warned crowds about at his packed rallies.

“The amount of money that gets poured into all these lobbies is a huge burden to overcome and the left has seen that up close in two presidential contests,” said James Zogby, a board member of the Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution. “We know that these are the obstacles that we’ve got to fight.”

But chief among Sanders’ obstacles was his inability to make inroads with many Black voters who also spurned him in 2016, despite his ramped-up outreach this time around. Another progressive candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren, also failed to attract many Black voters, suggesting a larger hurdle for progressives in their quest for the White House.

“As a whole the left has a real vulnerability with Black communities in the South,” said Ana Maria Archila, who leads the Center for Popular Democracy grassroots group, which backed Sanders. “We have not built strong individual organizations there.”

Sanders’ campaign was marked by dizzying highs and basement lows. When he first announced he was jumping into a crowded and chaotic field, many believed he was on a doomed mission to relive the glory of his 2016 run, and that progressives instead would flock around the younger Warren. At first that appeared to be the case, as Warren soared past him in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire in late summer and early fall. Then, in early October, Sanders was hospitalized for a heart attack, sending his polling numbers plummeting. Many prepared for him to drop out of the race at that point.

Instead, Sanders returned to the trail stronger than ever, the stents in his heart appearing to lift his energy levels. He scored the endorsement of three prominent liberal women of color in the House, including Ocasio-Cortez, who boosted his standing when he needed it most.

“I think for me, that moment was just a gut check,” Ocasio-Cortez said of his heart attack. She appeared with him at a rally in Queens later in October that attracted 26,000 fans, and Sanders reemerged as a scrappy underdog in the race.

Around the same time, the Democratic primary’s more moderate candidates began attacking Warren for her Medicare for All plan and attempts to detail its costs, while Sanders’ own Medicare for All proposal escaped scrutiny. He began rising in the polls, and his campaign began making an explicit “electability” argument, using head-to-head state polling that showed he beat Trump as often as Biden did.

Jane O'Meara Sanders, Bernie Sanders standing in front of a crowd: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at a Super Tuesday rally at the Champlain Exposition Center in Vermont.© John Tlumacki Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at a Super Tuesday rally at the Champlain Exposition Center in Vermont.Sanders ended up effectively tying for first with former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg in Iowa’s error-plagued caucuses, then narrowly winning his neighboring state of New Hampshire. In Nevada, boosted by Latino supporters, Sanders ran up his vote totals and beat the rest of the field by double-digits.

But at the next debate, his political opponents extensively attacked him for the first time. Buttigieg darkly warned that Sanders would drag down other Democrats in 2020, given his praise for a literacy program in Fidel Castro’s Cuba and identification as a democratic socialist. Biden made fun of him for not saying how much his sweeping progressive agenda would cost.

Sanders made some attempts to soften his image after his Nevada win, distancing himself from his own calls for revolution and highlighting his ability to work with Republicans on some foreign policy issues. But when Biden decisively won South Carolina, momentum moved quickly his way, with Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar quickly dropping out and endorsing him.

Even in victory, Sanders was not driving the record turnout among young people and other infrequent voters in the primaries that he promised in order to defeat Trump. Instead, turnout surged in many Super Tuesday states, as moderate suburbanites and others voted for Biden.

As the former vice president racked up victories, he made some concessions to Sanders’ agenda, adopting a plan that would make public colleges tuition-free for students from families making less than $125,000 per year— similar to the concession Clinton made to Sanders in 2016. Biden also adopted a consumer bankruptcy overhaul in a nod to Warren.

But at a March debate, Biden dismissed Sanders’ argument that the coronavirus shows the need for sweeping changes to the country’s safety net, particularly the health care system.

“People are looking for results, not a revolution,” Biden said then.

Progressives derive hope from polling that shows Sanders and his more drastic agenda are more popular among young people — a constituency that Biden may need Sanders’ help to attract.

“Maybe we didn’t win the election this time around but the 45 percent of voters who are under the age of 45, they’re going to become the majority,” Archila said.

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