Who is Bernie Sanders?

Photo Courtesy of Donkey Hotey / Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Donkey Hotey / Flickr

Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 but he is not a Democrat. Sanders is an independent senator from Vermont who has championed progressive causes and support for the working class for decades. Though most of America is just learning about him now, Sanders is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history and is known for bridging the divide between parties to create real progress.

Sanders has a reputation as a “practical and successful legislator” and a champion of progressive causes. His primary focus is the shrinking middle class and the widening income gap in America. Other priorities include reversing man-made climate change, promoting universal health care, improving fair trade policies, supporting veterans and preserving family farms. He serves on five Senate committees: Budget; Veterans; Energy; Environment; and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders / Facebook

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders / Facebook

Sanders  has announced a campaign for president, but some question how he is going to pay for this endeavor as he often vocalizes the need for campaign finance reform in the U.S., saying, “If we cannot control billionaires’ power to buy elections, the people elected to office will be responsive to the needs of the rich and powerful, rather than the needs of everyone else.” He has consistently supported the DISCLOSE act, which would require candidates to reveal some commonly kept campaign finance secrets and prevent foreign interests investments from interfering with the political system. His opposition to billionaires’ donations to political campaigns will certainly make his own campaign hard to finance.

While he is new to the official Democratic Party, Sanders has always been a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist. Most strategists say it is very unlikely that Sanders could draw more than a cult following and that he will most likely lose the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton.

Sanders takes a different perspective, saying in an interview that he is not running against Clinton but running for America--bringing a fresh attitude to American politics.

Photo Courtesy of Marc Nozell / Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Marc Nozell / Flickr

Sanders plans to rely on Clinton’s voting record, not her past mistakes or marriage to former president Clinton to pave the road to his success. He cites her early support of the Iraq War and the Keystone Pipeline as reasons why she does not deserve the Democratic nomination. While Clinton’s financial backers certainly have more clout than Sanders’, he believes that his voting record is what will set him apart.

Critics say Sanders’ reputation and self-branding as a “socialist” will be the downfall of his campaign. The word “socialist” is not one with which many American voters are comfortable, so Sanders’ embrace of the term could even serve to alienate many democratic voters.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders / Facebook

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders / Facebook

Former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich said of Clinton, "If she doesn't get the nomination, it will be because 'not Hillary' beats 'Hillary,'" he said. "It won't be because some candidate beats Hillary." In other words, the only way Sanders or any other politician who decides to run for the democratic nomination can only win by virtue of being “not Hillary,” drawing votes from people who are tired of Hillary and of the Clinton legacy.

While several well-known Republicans have announced presidential campaigns, Sanders is the only person to officially challenge Clinton thus far. He’s gained a larger-than-expected cult following, but the jury is still out on whether he can make a real dent in the Clinton empire.

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Miranda Richard