Sen. Bernie Sanders is dropping out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The move clears the path for former Vice President Joe Biden to secure the nomination and face President Donald Trump in November.
Sanders had initially been considered the front-runner following his strong showing in Iowa and wins in New Hampshire and Nevada. His campaign lost steam following his humiliating defeat by Biden in South Carolina, though, and even a victory in California was not enough to reverse the tide.
While the Vermont senator has an enthusiastic base that supports his "democratic socialist" policies, including universal, government-run health insurance and free public college, his inability to appeal to a wider audience of more centrist Democratic voters proved to be his Achilles’ heel.
Sanders announced his decision to drop out of the race to his staff in a phone call. He followed with a livestream to make his official announcement.
"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 toward victory is virtually impossible," Sanders said in the livestream. "So while we are winning the ideological battle and while we are winning the support of so many young people and working people throughout the country, 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 plans to remain on the ballot in the states that have yet to hold their primaries, however, and seek to add to his delegate count. “While Joe Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions,” Sanders said. He called Biden a "decent man" but stopped short of endorsing him.
He emphasized that “while this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not.”
“Focusing on that new vision for America is what our campaign has been about and what in fact we have accomplished,’’ he said. “Few would deny that over the course of the past five years our movement has won the ideological struggle.”
During the campaign, Sanders and Biden have both taken positions supportive of LGBTQ equality, although at times Sanders has pointed out that Biden came to certain stances later than he did. Biden, for instance, voted for the anti-marriage equality Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, while Sanders did not. But Biden became a full-throated marriage equality supporter in 2012.
Biden released a lengthy statement responding to Sanders's announcement. "Bernie has done something rare in politics," he 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.
"Senator Sanders and his supporters have changed the dialogue in America," Biden continued. "Issues which had been given little attention — or little hope of ever passing — are now at the center of the political debate. Income inequality, universal health care, climate change, free college, relieving students from the crushing debt of student loans. These are just a few of the issues Bernie and his supporters have given life to. And while Bernie and I may not agree on how we might get there, we agree on the ultimate goal for these issues and many more." Biden promised to address them.
He also invited Sanders supporters into his campaign: "I see you, I hear you, and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country. I hope you will join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed. Together we will defeat Donald Trump. And when we do that, we’ll not only do the hard work of rebuilding this nation — we’ll transform it."
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David also issued a statement: “Throughout his campaign and career in public service, Senator Bernie Sanders has driven equality forward for marginalized communities and energized voters from every walk of life. He created a movement centered on issues of justice that elevated issues long overlooked on the national stage.
“People of every community responded to the Senator’s call for changes to a status quo that has failed to address a variety of issues affecting marginalized communities across the nation. This important conversation will continue thanks to Senator Sanders’ tireless efforts.
“We look forward to working with the 3.1 million members of the Human Rights Campaign and Senator Sanders to mobilize pro-equality voters and ensure we elect pro-equality leaders at every level of government this fall.”
Trump, meanwhile, put out a series of snarky tweets, saying Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had undermined Sanders's campaign, taking progressive votes away from him, and that Sanders supporters should come to Trump's side because of trade issues. He also claimed progressive members of Congress like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her allies would be unlikely to support Biden, although Ocasio-Cortez has publicly said she will.
Additional reporting by Trudy Ring