WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, taking a break from Senate business on Thursday to wedge in a no-frills announcement in front of the Capitol.
“Got to get back. Let me get through this,” Sanders said as he started five minutes of remarks laying out his rationale for running — amounting to taking on Clinton from the left.
Sanders has been pushing Wall Street reform for years, and taking on tax-dodging U.S. corporations has been one of his signature crusades.
With Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., not running in 2016, Sanders has a chance to consolidate any anti-Clinton progressives and amplify their voices — to keep pressure on Clinton to pay close attention to them and their issues.
Though Sanders is a long shot, by running for president he gains a big stage for the next year, before the first 2016 presidential votes are cast in Iowa and New Hampshire.
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Sanders has been taking aim at the Koch Brothers, who have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Republican candidates and causes. He did not hit Clinton for her massive fundraising, but he did say questions about finances of the Clinton Foundation are fair game.
“The major issue is, how do we create an economy that works for all of our people rather than a small number of billionaires,” Sanders said.
“We now have a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates,” he added. “Let’s not kid ourselves, this is the reality right now.”
Clinton said via Twitter, “I agree with Bernie. Focus must be on helping America’s middle class. GOP would hold them back. I welcome him to the race. –H.”
Clinton can afford to be gracious. She is building a massive megamillion-dollar fundraising operation and has no substantial competition for the Democratic nomination.
The latest CNN poll puts Clinton at 69 percent; Vice President Joe Biden at 11 percent; and Sanders at 5 percent – which is an uptick.
Sanders, 73, will run for president in the 2016 primary and caucuses as a Democrat. Since joining Congress, he has been aligned with Democrats. The paperwork Sanders is filing to run for president makes it clear he is seeking the Democratic nomination.
That’s a pragmatic decision. Getting on 50 state ballots as a third-party contender is an uphill, expensive and time-consuming battle.
I asked Sanders as the end of his press conference if he was now calling himself a Democrat. “No,” he said. “I’m an independent.”
For now, that difference may not have much of a distinction.
Sanders is a Brooklyn native who received an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago in 1964, living in Hyde Park during his college years.
Moving to Vermont, Sanders became the mayor of Burlington in 1981, winning a House seat in 1990 and moving up to the Senate in 1996.
Tad Devine, one of Sanders’ key advisers, said he did not anticipate any problem in qualifying to get on state ballots as a Democrat. New Hampshire has a requirement stating only “registered” Democrats or Republicans can run in its first-in-the-nation primary.
“We’ll do whatever we need to do,” Devine said.