BURLINGTON, Vt. (CN) — Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign Wednesday, marking his second runner-up finish in the race to lead a major political party he otherwise does not represent and setting the stage for former Vice President Joe Biden to secure the nomination.
Sanders made the announcement during a staff conference call this morning, one day after the Wisconsin primary. Though the final results will not be released until next week, many polls predicted he would lose by a wide margin.
“While the campaign ends, the struggle for justice goes on,” Sanders said in a livestream, going on to thank his 2 million contributors. He said their 10 million individual donations averaged $18.50 each.
Even in losing, the 78-year-old Sanders achieved what many assumed was his real goal when he began his improbable campaign for president in 2016: to move the Democratic Party far to the left on economic and social issues.
He called his effort “an unprecedented grassroots political campaign that has had a profound impact on changing our nation.”
“Our movement has won the ideological struggle,” Sanders added, because ideas that had once been considered radical and fringe are now mainstream.
“That is what we have accomplished together … The future of our country is with our ideas,” Sanders continued.
Biden quickly responded, praising Sanders’ advocacy with regard to universal health care, income inequality, climate change and college debt. “While Bernie and I may not agree on how we might get there, we agree on the ultimate goal for these issues and many more,” he said.
The presumptive nominee addressed Sanders’ supporters, saying: “I see you, I hear you, and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country. I hope you will join us.”
Meanwhile Brad Parscale, President Trump’s campaign manager, tried to divide the Democratic Party and attract disaffected Sanders supporters. “The Democrat establishment got the candidate they wanted in Joe Biden,” Parscale said. “Democrat elites shoved Bernie Sanders to the side for a second time, leaving many of his supporters looking for a new home.”
A registered Independent and self-described democratic socialist, Sanders’ signature issue was Medicare for All, a plan for free comprehensive government-paid health insurance. Few other Democratic candidates embraced Sanders’ exact vision, but all of them reacted to Sanders by claiming that their plan accomplished a similar goal of providing health insurance to all Americans.
Sanders also revolutionized the way campaigns are funded, eschewing wealthy donors, high-dollar fundraisers and Super PACs, and instead relying on large numbers of small donations. Sander raised an eye-popping $34.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 with the average donation amounting to only $18.53. He followed that by raising $25 million in January and $46 million in February.
But Sanders struggled with the perception that he couldn’t win a general election and that the presence of an avowed socialist at the top of the ticket would drag down Democrats in other races. When he became the frontrunner after Nevada, many leading Democrats publicly worried that he would harm the party’s chances in the House and Senate as well as in state contests.
Sanders’ response was that he would inspire large numbers of new and disaffected voters to come to the polls. But his predicted turnout boost failed to materialize. Despite narrowly winning the popular vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, for instance, he didn’t significantly increase his popularity there from 2016. When other candidates began to drop out and Biden became the consensus moderate favorite — as Clinton had been four years earlier — Sanders once again came up short.