Bernard Sanders, Vermont’s independent, left-leaning U.S. Senator, is preparing to launch a longshot campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign on Thursday, according to sources close to the senator.
A Sanders entry would provide Democratic primary voters with a liberal alternative to presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, who once served with Sanders in the Senate. Bernie Sanders, as he is universally known, is widely popular in Vermont, a state he has represented in the U.S. House and Senate since his first election to the House in 1990.
Sanders, 73, is a frequent guest on liberal cable networks, such as MSNBC, but is not well known outside his adopted state of Vermont. With his unruly nimbus of white hair, his steadfast liberal views on both foreign and domestic policies, and the thick Brooklyn accent of his New York youth, he has long cut an unusual figure in Vermont and across the nation.
A low-key announcement is planned, probably via the Internet, say sources close to Sanders. The senator’s longtime Vermont chief of staff, Phil Fiermonte, declined comment on a presidential run when contacted yesterday, saying only, "I cannot confirm or deny" a campaign.
Sanders told The Nation magazine last year he was "prepared to run." Sanders longtime consultant, Rhode Island native Tad Devine declined comment when contacted today. Devine said earlier that if Sanders did run that he would be advising him.
Sanders has long labeled himself a democratic socialist who admires European-style social democracies.
He is a staunch supporter of government efforts to help the poor and is a strong backer of unions, Social Security and programs for veterans. He is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Budget Committee.
Sanders has been making some exploratory visits to such early voting states as Iowa and New Hampshire, but has not made a formal presidential announcement. He would join Clinton and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee as announced Democratic White House contenders if he gets in.
As was the case with Chafee, Sanders voted against then-President George W. Bush’s military invasion of Iraq. A Jew, Sanders also boycotted the Congressional speech of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu after he was invited by Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
Sanders is a staunch supporter of organized labor, which isn’t particularly strong in Vermont, and single-payer universal health care. He has long questioned trade deals that he believes have cost middle-class Americans jobs. A vigorous debater, he would be expected to provide a strong alternative to Clinton and could help Democratic activist groups, whose first choice was Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Warren, push Clinton to the left.
He has long been a critic of the power of large banks and other financial institutions and has protested a lack of federal regulation of those institutions, an Elizabeth Warren before anyone heard of her. A tough debater, he would provide a contrast with Clinton, and the diffident Chafee.
A graduate of the University of Chicago, Sanders is the longest-serving independent in U.S. Congressional history. He has always run as an independent, but caucuses with Senate Democrats. When he was a House member he also caucused with Democrats.
He has had an unusual career, beginning as a perennial losing candidate for state and federal office of Vermont’s left-leaning and iconoclastic Liberty Union Party, which began as an anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1970s.
Sanders' breakthrough came in 1981 when he improbably won a race for mayor of Burlington, the picturesque college town that is home to the University of Vermont and the state’s largest city. Sanders won a four-way campaign by the narrowest of margins, defeating incumbent Democrat Gordon Paquette. The Democratic machine that had long ruled Burlington had gotten so rusty it couldn’t even steal a 10-vote election.
He served four mostly successful terms as Burlington mayor and never lost an election in four tries. He is close to UVM Religion Professor Richard Sugarman, who was a college roommate of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut at Yale University and later roomed with Sanders. Sanders is married to Jane Sanders, the former president of Burlington College.
Sanders is not personally wealthy, as is Chafee and Clinton, but he has over the years built a national fund-raising network. Devine has long insisted that if Sanders does run, it would be a serious campaign, not a vanity run a la former Ohio U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who flew coach and stumped around New Hampshire in a rented van.
Even President Obama has noticed. At the recent White House Correspondents Dinner, the president told this joke:
``I like Bernie Sanders. Bernie is an interesting guy. Apparently some folks really want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all.’’