Bernie Sanders is ending his second bid for the presidency, the campaign staff was informed on a conference call Wednesday morning, according to campaign sources.
Sanders’s departure from the race comes a day after the state of Wisconsin went forward with a controversial in-person election, which Sanders had called to be postponed. The Vermont senator was momentarily the frontrunner for the nomination, following a popular-vote win in Iowa, a win in New Hampshire, and a decisive victory in Nevada. His chances fell apart in South Carolina, where the dean of the state party, Rep. Jim Clyburn, gave an impassioned endorsement to former Vice President Joe Biden. A race that had been narrowing turned into a blowout.
Party moderates then coalesced around Biden, who soared in the polls, pulling off the biggest comeback in the shortest amount of time, measured by a swing in the polls, since the modern primary process began in 1972. Biden won a majority of states on Super Tuesday and continued racking up victories throughout March.
Some in Sanders’s inner circle — including, most vocally, Our Revolution Chair and labor leader Larry Cohen — had urged Sanders to stay in the race in order to build his delegate total and leverage that for policy wins within the Democratic Party’s platform. Others had argued the platform is largely meaningless and that his greatest leverage is in the Senate, where the economy is being reshaped by an ongoing series of relief efforts historic in scope and scale. He took a middle ground, telling supporters in a livestream on Wednesday morning that he would continue to gather delegates by staying on the ballot in the remaining primary states. “While Vice President Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention,” Sanders said, “where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions.”
The Sanders campaign had raised $182 million by the end of February, with roughly $19 million cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission records. The Biden campaign, meanwhile, had raised $88 million and had $12 million cash on hand at that point in the campaign.
Sanders’s exit is a boost for Biden, particularly as it relates to campaign finance. Without a primary opponent, he can move more quickly to the general election phase of the race, during which he can spend money raised for that purpose. Had the contest gone all the way to the August convention without Biden having locked up the necessary delegates, he would be restricted to his scarce primary funds only. It’s not entirely clear when Biden can tap general election funds, and lawyers are working to move the date up as much as possible, sources said.
Sanders and Biden spoke on Wednesday after the Vermont senator suspended his campaign.
With Sanders out of the race, the progressive organizing effort is shifting to pressure Biden to make particular policy commitments and, more importantly, to shift his personnel in a more liberal direction and away from corporate allies. In a letter, eight organizations led by young people — Justice Democrats, March for Our Lives Action Fund, Alliance for Youth Action, NextGen America, Student Action, Sunrise Movement, If Not Now, and United We Dream Action — called on Biden to work to rectify his debilitating lack of popularity among people under the age of 45. “While you are now the presumptive Democratic nominee, it is clear that you were unable to win the votes of the vast majority of voters under 45 years old during the primary,” the letter notes. The groups, in an accompanying statement, detailed the failure:
As documented in extensive polling and a number of primary contests, Biden struggles to garner the support of voters under 45 years old, while Bernie Sanders’ base is made primarily of voters under 45. On Super Tuesday, Biden won only 17 percent of voters under 45. Bernie Sanders won voters under 30 in Michigan and Missouri by 76 points and 57 points respectively, according to exit polls. Democratic voters under 45 tend to be more progressive than their older counterparts.
On the personnel side, the coalition asked for Biden to pledge to appoint as co-chairs of his transition team politicians who had endorsed Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, such as Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Ayanna Pressley, and Katie Porter. It also calls on Biden to bring on advisers from the policy teams of Gov. Jay Inslee, Sanders, Warren, union leaders Bonnie Castillo, Mary Kay Henry, and Sara Nelson, as well as leading criminal justice reformers.
At the same time, it urges a rejection of current or former Wall Street executives or corporate lobbyists, or anybody affiliated with fossil fuel, health insurance, or private prison companies. It also calls for a Department of Homeland Security with leadership committed to dismantling the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies as they are currently constituted.
On the policy front, the groups’ asks include a $10 trillion Green New Deal stimulus package, a plan to reduce gun deaths by half in 10 years, allowing the federal government to manufacture generic drugs, a wealth tax, ending collaboration between ICE and local police, pot legalization, and abolishing the filibuster.
The letter makes clear there’s an upside for Biden if he can win over young people. “The organizations below will spend more than $100 million communicating with more than 10 million young members, supporters, and potential voters this election cycle,” the letter reads. “We are uniquely suited to help mobilize our communities, but we need help ensuring our efforts will be backed-up by a campaign that speaks to our generation. Our generation is the future of this country. If you aim to motivate, mobilize, and welcome us in, we will work tirelessly to align this nation with its highest ideals.”