Bernie Sanders, the longest-serving independent member of Congress, is officially seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, the Vermont senator announced in an email to supporters this morning.
"People should not underestimate me," Sanders told the Associated Press in an interview that broke the news of his candidacy Wednesday night. "I've run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country."
The self-described "Democratic socialist" wants to challenge the business-as-usual trend of big money in politics that he says dominates the current candidates — including Hillary Clinton.
The thrust of Sanders's campaign thus far — like his political career as the mayor of Burlington, Vt., 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the past seven in the U.S. Senate — has focused on supporting working-class Americans through elevated taxes on the wealthy and correcting income inequality "which is now reaching obscene levels," he told the AP.
But Sanders has also been a steadfast and reliable supporter of LGBT equality, supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when it passed the Senate in 2013 and even calling on President Obama to evolve already and support marriage equality in 2011. He's a cosponsor of the federal LGBT-inclusive Student Non-Discrimination Act and has consistently voted against bills seeking to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, while cosponsoring a bill that would repeal the remaining portions of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Sanders has a perfect score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign's latest Congressional Equality Index.
Sanders used Twitter to highlight that long-standing support Monday, just one day before the Supreme Court heard arguments on marriage equality. That comment included an overt reference to Clinton — albeit to the former president and not the current presidential hopeful:
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) April 27, 2015
Clinton herself welcomed Sanders to the 2016 race with a tweet Thursday morning, while she has previously fired back at critics who lambasted what they claim was her slow evolution to support full marriage equality.
"You know, somebody is always first," Clinton told NPR's Terry Gross last summer. "Somebody’s always out front and thank goodness they are. But that doesn’t mean that those who joined later in being publicly supportive or even privately accepting that there needs to be change are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across our country if nobody changed their mind. And thank goodness so many of us have."