Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told The Nation more than a year ago that he was “prepared to run for president of the United States.” But he said he had to determine whether grassroots activists were ready to back an insurgent progressive-populist candidacy. And he had to sort out the question of how to mount a campaign that he said would require a “political revolution” to upset politics as usual.
Sanders has gotten the answers he was looking for, and aides and allies say that he is preparing to announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination later this week. That’s a big leap for the senator, who has caucused with congressional Democrats but has always been elected as an independent.
Sanders, who Vermont Public Radio says will launch his challenge to the supposed inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic candidacy on Thursday, made no secret of the fact that he was wrestling with the issue of how to run. The only democratic socialist in the Senate has been a fierce critic of both major parties, and he listened closely over the past year to counsel from those who wanted him to mount an independent or third-party bid and to those who said the only practical option was to run inside the Democratic Party.
The senator always said that he would not be a spoiler—pulling votes from a Democratic nominee in a November race that might tip to a right-wing Republican. And the intensive “Run Bernie Run—as a Democrat” campaign mounted by the group Progressive Democrats of America made the case that Sanders could run his kind of campaign in the Democratic caucuses and primaries.
That’s not a guarantee that it will work, however. Polls still show Clinton far ahead of any and every potential challenger for the nomination. And there is still a determined effort to draft Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren into the race.
But Sanders can point to poll numbers that have improved significantly since he began visiting the first-caucus state of Iowa and the first-primary state of New Hampshire. A PPP survey released this week has him at 14 percent in Iowa, his best number yet in a state where he has consistently drawn large crowds. In New Hampshire, he’s at 12 percent—behind Clinton and Warren but ahead of Vice President Joe Biden and potential contenders such as former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.