WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose call for a political revolution attracted millions of ardent followers and galvanized a national movement for a progressive agenda, has dropped out of the presidential race, giving former Vice President Joe Biden a clean path to the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Sanders' exit comes after a string of losses to Biden in the primary election.
The intensifying coronavirus pandemic also meant he could no longer hold the large rallies that came to define his grassroots movement, though he often pointed to the problems many Americans had getting tested and treated for the virus as a way to push his signature Medicare for All proposal.
Fiercely unapologetic, the Vermont independent senator's call for economic justice, universal health care and an end to the "billionaire class" was the loud refrain for two presidential campaigns that pulled the Democratic party to the left.
Ultimately, it fell short. For the second consecutive election, the self-described Democratic socialist was the runner up: finishing behind Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the former vice president this year.
He entered the 2020 campaign with high name recognition, experience and an army of supporters – some pejoratively known as "Bernie Bros" – that collectively propelled him into front-runner status after the first three states.
But his momentum began to fizzle after the South Carolina primary Feb. 29 when black voters backed Biden in large numbers, foreshadowing the struggles Sanders would have with a key Democratic constituency going forward into Super Tuesday three days later.
Sanders would win the biggest Super Tuesday prize – California – but he would lose 10 of the other states to Biden that night, including Texas, a state in which he had invested a lot of time and energy. After that, he never regained his footing while support from key rivals, such as Michael Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar, coalesced around Biden.
He also had a recent health scare.
In early October, he felt chest discomfort during a campaign event in Las Vegas. At the time, his campaign announced that he had a blockage in one artery and two stents were inserted. Several days later, Sanders' treating physicians Arturo E. Marchand Jr. and Arun Guraraj released a statement via the campaign saying Sanders had a heart attack But Brian Monahan, the attending physician at the U.S. Capitol, declared the senator in "good health" in a letter released Dec. 30, 2019, by the Sanders campaign. Monahan is Sanders' primary doctor.
A New York City native who never shed his thick Brooklyn accent, Sanders, 78, built a national following despite representing the nation's second least populous state. His supporters were overwhelmingly under 35, providing the energy to his dynamic campaign but not always showing up at the polls when he needed them most
His political career nearly never happened. In 1981, the carpenter and documentary filmmaker was elected at age 39 mayor of Burlington, Vermont's largest city, by only 10 votes out of nearly 10,000 cast.
He was elected nearly a decade later as Vermont's sole member of the U.S House. After eight terms, he won a seat to the U.S. Senate in 2006, using his perch on Capitol Hill to craft a platform on national issues that became the basis of his presidential runs.
Sanders, whose state has no party registration, is the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history.
Sanders was a relative unknown and a long-shot candidate (he was 50 points behind Clinton in some national polls) when he launched his first presidential campaign in the spring of 2015.
Before his first presidential run in 2016, Sanders' outrage over the “billionaire class” might have been captured only on C-SPAN and left-leaning news shows. But his presidential run changed that.
Sanders won 22 states and 45% of the pledged delegates, and he consistently led Clinton overwhelmingly among 18-29-year-olds. His campaign drew a record 8.2 million individual contributions from about 2.5 million donors, raising about $228 million largely through fundraising emails to supporters.
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 his rallies and other events across the country drawn to the same populist message that helped propel Republican Donald Trump to the White House that year.
Though he lost, Sanders' influence was evident. Clinton proposed expanding access to health care and eliminating college tuition for working families. Many of his priorities also were included in what Sanders then described as the most progressive platform in the party's history.