Can Bernie Sanders Push Hillary Clinton Further to the Left?

Sanders' campaign for the Democratic nomination is up and running.
Sen. Bernie Sanders launched his 2016 presidential campaign on Tuesday. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
May 27, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders held the first rally in his campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, telling a group of voters in his home state, Vermont, that he will aggressively tackle income inequality. Sanders is one of the most colorful and little-known figures in American politics: He’s 73, a former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and a declared socialist. So far, he is Hillary Clinton’s only challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination. The question is: Can he push Clinton further to the left?

"This campaign is going to send a message to the billionaire class," Sanders said at the rally. "And that is: You can’t have it all."

Here are five key things to know about Sanders:

1. Sanders has made his mark as a senator.

He’s the ranking member of the Senate’s banking committee and has been an unapologetic Wall Street critic. He has twice introduced legislation to crack down on offshore tax havens.

In 2013, he cosponsored the Climate Protection Act, which would have taxed carbon and methane emissions. He also opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, and introduced legislation to install 10 million solar power panel systems for homes and businesses in 2010 and 2015. In January, Republican lawmakers blocked the solar power bill.

Sanders opposed the most recent war in Iraq. As a U.S. senator, Clinton supported the war.

2. He's a socialist, but he's caucusing with the Democrats.

Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist and has long criticized the Democratic Party. Sanders hopes to be taken more seriously than he would as a third-party contender. “So to me, the question is whose views come closer to representing the vast majority of working people in this country,” Sanders told The Associated Press. “And you know what? I think my views do.” Appearing in opposition to Clinton will highlight what he perceives as her lack of progressive politics—particularly her deep-pocketed corporate donors, her waffling on issues like the Iraq war, and her distance from working people.

3. Sanders is serious about taking on income inequality.

The disparity between rich and poor in America is a hallmark of Sanders’ talking points. He has called income inequality “the great moral issue of our time.” Sanders told CNBC that the 90 percent top income tax rates of the 1950s weren’t too high, and he wants to see big Wall Street banks broken up. Sanders believes Clinton’s wealth has isolated her from working-class voters, whose support she needs to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. His push for free higher education and a plan to tackle college debt are a key part of his vow to take on inequality, in the spirit of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

4. He thinks he's a real contender for the nomination.

It’s highly unlikely the Senator will win the Democratic nomination. Sanders has proudly acknowledged that he won’t be able to raise as much campaign money as Clinton, especially given his grassroots approach to fund-raising and his opposition to corporations funding political campaigns. But given his ability to garner support from independents, Democrats, and a few Republicans in Vermont, Sanders thinks he has a chance. “Don’t underestimate me,” he told John Harwood of CNBC. “We're going to do better than people think. And I think we got a shot to win this thing.”

5. Sanders could push Clinton to the left.

Sanders has been outspoken on issues on which Clinton has remained publicly silent, such as the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal, which he believes will push jobs away from the U.S. While Clinton praised the deal as secretary of state, she has since kept quiet. Discussing her ties to money and power could force Clinton to take a more progressive stance on reining in big banks and cause her to form a more targeted approach to issues like poverty and inequality.