There’s little doubt that independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont will shake things up in the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign and force frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton to tack further to the left in her effort to woo skeptical liberal Democrats.
Since announcing his candidacy in the shadows of the Capitol last Thursday, the self-described “Democratic socialist” has criticized the former secretary of state and senator for not speaking out more forthrightly against the Keystone XL pipeline or taking issue with President Obama’s controversial Asian trade policies.
He has also taken aim at her hawkish foreign policy views and her long-standing political ties to Wall Street and the country’s billionaire plutocrats who are fast wresting control of the political system with unprecedented campaign contributions through super PACs.
During an appearance on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos program, Sanders appeared to take his criticism one step further by lumping Clinton and her family’s international foundation with the billionaire conservative Koch brothers and Las Vegan casino magnate and Republican king maker Sheldon Adelson.
In recent days, the foundation founded by Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton has come under increased scrutiny for its fundraising practices and mounting suggestion of influence peddling that enabled the couple to amass a fortune in speaking fees and honoraria.
“I have known Hillary for some 25 years, I respect her and I like her,” Sanders told Stephanopoulos. But I think what the American people are saying is that at a time when 99 percent of all income is going to the top one percent, and when the top one-tenth percent of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, maybe it’s time for real political shakeup in this country and go beyond establishment politics.”
Stephanopoulos pressed Sanders to say whether he believes that Clinton – mounting her second campaign for the White House -- poses as much of a threat to the democratic process as the efforts of conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch or Adelson. “What I am saying is I get very frightened about the future of American democracy when this becomes a battle between billionaires,” he replied.
The 73-year-old white-haired Sanders launched his improbable campaign for president last week after eight years in the Senate and 16 years in the House. The son of an immigrant paint salesman who grew up in Brooklyn, Sanders has aggressively pursued leftist politics since he attended the University of Chicago.
Sanders began his political career as mayor of Burlington, Vermont during the 1980s. And he boasts of being the longest-serving independent in congressional history.
With liberal icon Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts apparently determined to sit out next year’s presidential contest, Sanders looms as the most likely candidate to galvanize party progressives and tap into their frustration with more Clinton’s more establishment views.
Sanders stirred a flurry of Democratic interest over the weekend during appearances in New Hampshire that helped raise an initial $2.1 million from 35,000 online donors and others. However, Sanders will be no match for Clinton, who has consistently gained the support of more than 60 percent of Democrats in recent polls compared to roughly 6 percent for Sanders.
Clinton should have no trouble raising as much money as she needs to get through the primaries and prepare for a much tougher challenge against the eventual Republican nominee next year.
However, for now, Clinton’s emerging national campaign organization is building a decidedly low-key fundraising operation. Because she has made overhauling the nation’s “dysfunctional” campaign-finance system one of her top campaign themes, Clinton for now is shunning the ostentatious show of massive financial support that has become the trademark of Republican presidential aspirants, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Still, Sanders warned yesterday that it would be a big mistake to underestimate him – noting that throughout his career he has won elections after being written off as unelectable.
Just to demonstrate that he entered the race to win, Sanders reversed himself after vowing to reporters last Thursday that he would run for president as an independent.
If his campaign is to be more than a vanity exercise in promoting progressive causes, Sanders will have to abandon his independent status and register as a Democrat in order to qualify for the primaries in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
“In my heart I am an independent,” he said yesterday. “I have been an independent for 30 years but I am seeking the Democratic Party nomination for president of the United States and obviously I’m going to follow all of the rules and regulations to get on ballot as a Democrat.”
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