Sanders drops out of presidential race

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Hawaii primary Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden Julián Castro to become senior advisor for Voto Latino MORE (I-Vt.) suspended his presidential bid on Wednesday, ending a campaign that once appeared on track to dominate the Democratic nominating contest but that quickly lost momentum. 

Sanders began reevaluating his campaign after a string of primary losses last month. But he continued his push for the nomination for weeks before ultimately telling his staff in a conference call on Wednesday morning that he had decided to drop out of the race.

His decision to suspend his campaign effectively paves the way for former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' How will COVID-19 affect the Hispanic vote come November? MORE to claim the Democratic presidential nomination.

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He had already amassed a nearly insurmountable delegate lead over Sanders but would have been unable to secure the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination until at least June after a handful of states delayed their primaries because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a live-streamed address on Wednesday, Sanders acknowledged his mounting delegate deficit in the race and concluded that he no longer had a viable path to the nomination and he vowed to push issues he had campaigned on, including committing to push for “Medicare for All” as the coronavirus leads to massive layoffs.

“I wish I could give you better news, but I think you know the truth. And that is that we are now some 300 delegates behind Vice President Biden and the path to victory is virtually impossible,” Sanders said. “I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful, and so today I am announcing the suspension of my campaign.”

He said that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic had hastened his decision to suspend his campaign, saying that continuing his presidential bid would only distract from efforts to combat the outbreak and damage it has done to the U.S. economy.

“I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour,” he said.

Sanders launched his second bid for the White House in February 2019 and eventually claimed early victories in the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, elevating him as the field’s prohibitive front-runner.

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But that early momentum stalled in South Carolina, where black voters and moderates delivered a resounding victory to Biden, effectively reviving the former vice president’s floundering campaign and kicking off a weeks-long stretch of primary victories.

As Biden ran up the score on Sanders in March, the Vermont senator became torn between competing forces within the Democratic Party and his own campaign.

Some allies and operatives urged him to bow out of the race, warning that prolonging the primary fight could damage the party’s chances of defeating President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order MORE in November, especially at a time when the country was dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

The health crisis has sidelined Sanders and Biden, leaving them unable to hold rallies or organize the type of voter interaction or fundraising typical of presidential campaigns.

Others, like his campaign co-chair Nina Turner, pleaded with him to continue his presidential bid, arguing that dropping out would disappoint loyal supporters and cede crucial political influence in the nominating process.

The departure marks Sanders's second failed attempt at the Democratic nomination after he came up short in his 2016 challenge against former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE.

The 2016 campaign did, however, vault Sanders to household name status after he cobbled together a loyal base of support from largely young voters who grew enamored with his progressive policies and efforts to push the party further left.

Though moderates accused Sanders of dividing the party — and weakening Clinton — by not dropping out sooner in 2016, he earned plaudits from liberals over his ability to push her to adopt policies such as a $15 minimum wage and making four-year public colleges and universities debt-free, among others.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Sanders signaled that he would still seek to hold sway over the Democratic Party’s platform. 

He said he would remain on the ballot in upcoming primary contests and would try to amass as many delegates as possible in a bid to wield influence at the party’s national convention this summer.

“While Vice President Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible to assert influence over the party platform and functions,” Sanders said.

Sanders also vowed to push forward with Medicare for All, saying the coronavirus is leading "millions" of laid off Americans to lose their health insurance.

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"In terms of health care, this current, horrific crisis that we are now in has exposed for all to see how absurd our current employer-based health insurance system is," he said. "We have always believed that health care must be considered as a human right, not an employee benefit, and we are right." 

Like in 2016, Sanders campaigned from the left, emphasizing policy proposals such as the Green New Deal and health care. His early victories in the race sent the moderate wing of the Democratic Party into a tailspin, with centrists scrambling to unify around an alternative to Sanders, whose democratic socialism they feared would prove an easy general election target for President Trump.

However, Biden consolidated the moderate support after his 30-point rout in South Carolina, prompting former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Here's how Biden can win over the minority vote and the Rust Belt The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrat concedes in California House race MORE and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Congress must fill the leadership void The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump spotted wearing a face mask MORE (D-Minn.) to exit the race and endorse the former vice president.

Biden's success continued into Super Tuesday, when he won 10 of 14 states, and the former vice president went on to rack up wins in crucial states like Michigan and Florida and swept Sanders in the south. 

Biden expanded his base of African Americans, older voters and white voters with and without college degrees, while Sanders saw his support dissolve among the working class voters who helped him surge in 2016 and his strong backing among younger generations fail to translate into primary votes.

Sanders had indicated prior to his withdrawal he would support the ultimate nominee in the general election if he lost the primary, saying his top priority is defeating Trump in November.

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Sanders offered his congratulations to Biden on Wednesday and vowed to work with the former vice president, though he stopped short of offering him his endorsement. 

“The fight for justice is what our campaign has been about. The fight for justice is what our movement remains about,” Sanders said. “Today I congratulate Joe Biden, a very decent man who I will work with to move our progressive ideas forward.”

In a statement issued after Sanders’s announcement on Wednesday, Biden paid tribute to the Vermont senator.

“Bernie has done something rare in politics,” Biden said. “He hasn’t just run a political campaign; he’s created a movement. And make no mistake about it, I believe it’s a movement that is as powerful today as it was yesterday. That’s a good thing for our nation and our future.”

--This report was updated on April 9 at 8:53 a.m.