- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Promising a “revolution” that would wrest political power from the clutches of America’s billionaire class, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont officially kicked off his presidential campaign at a rally Tuesday and then headed out on a barnstorming tour to make his populist pitch directly to working-class voters.

The campaign launch in Burlington, Vermont, where Mr. Sanders began his political career as mayor, came nearly a month after he announced his White House bid. But the candidate’s zeal signaled the start of a new, aggressive effort to galvanize the Democratic Party’s liberal base to challenge front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination.

“Today with your support and the support of millions of people throughout our country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally,” Mr. Sanders bellowed to more than 3,000 supporters gathered on the shore of Lake Champlain.

“Today we stand here and say loudly and clearly ‘enough is enough,’” he said. “This great nation and its government belong to all of the people and not to a handful of billionaires.”

His campaign platform was a wish list of liberal activists: break up Wall Street banks, expand Social Security and fight climate change.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the co-founders of Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and known for their left-wing politics, introduced Mr. Sanders at the rally.

Mr. Cohen called for a “Bernie rebellion” by disaffected and apathetic American voters.

“For those who have been sitting on the sidelines, finally a candidate worth voting for,” he said.

Mr. Sanders also spoke of igniting a grass-roots movement that would confound the pundits and political establishments that have dismissed his candidacy.

“We are going to build a movement of millions of Americans who are prepared to stand up and fight back. We are going to take this campaign directly to the people in town meetings, door-to-door conversations, on street corners and on social media,” he said.

After the kick-off rally, Mr. Sanders embarked on a whirlwind tour of early-voting states New Hampshire and Iowa. He was scheduled to attend town meetings Wednesday in the New Hampshire towns of Concord, Portsmouth and Eppington, before he arrives Thursday in Iowa for events in Davenport, Muscatine, West Branch, Iowa City and Kensett.

The two-state swing will take just 48 hours, then Mr. Sanders jets to Minnesota for more campaign stops this week.

“And that’s just the start of this national campaign,” he said.

Mr. Sanders, who won election to the Senate as an independent but who caucuses with Democrats and proudly calls himself a socialist, entered the race April 30 with an agenda intended to critique Mrs. Clinton from the left.

In Burlington, Mr. Sanders insisted his campaign was about rescuing working-class Americans from a political and economic system rigged in favor of billionaires, oil companies and other big corporations.

“Let me be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It’s not about Hillary Clinton. It’s not about Jeb Bush or any one else,” he said. “This campaign is about the needs of the American people and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs.”

HIs agenda for the presidency includes raising taxes on the wealthy, upping the minimum wage to a $15 per hour “living wage,” creating jobs through federal infrastructure projects and fighting climate change by restricting the U.S. use of fossil fuels.

“Now is not the time for thinking small. Now is not the time for the same-old same-old, establishment politics and stale inside-the-beltway ideas,” said Mr. Sanders. “Now is the time for millions of working families to come together to revitalize American democracy, to end the collapse of our middle class and to make certain that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy a quality of life that brings them health, prosperity, security and joy — and once again makes the United States the leader in the world in the fight for economic and social justice, for environmental sanity and for a world of peace.”

But Mr. Sanders, 73, has struggled to gain traction in his uphill battle against Mrs. Clinton since announcing his White House run. His left-wing agenda endeared him with the party’s liberal activists but barely improved his standing in the polls.

He trailed Mrs. Clinton, 67, by nearly 52 points in the Real Clear Politics average of recent national polls.

The closest contest is in the early-voting state of New Hampshire, which neighbors his home state of Vermont. A Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm poll shortly after Mr. Sanders announced his run showed him with 18 percent to Mrs. Clinton’s 62 percent.

Mr. Sanders has used his perch in the Senate to promote his agenda, including introducing bills that would break up big Wall Street banks and impose a “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions to pay for free tuition at public colleges.

He also sided with the party’s liberals and union allies in leading opposition to a trade bill on which Mrs. Clinton refused to stake a position. The bill, which pitted Republicans and President Obama against the Democratic Party base, eventually passed the Senate. But Mrs. Clinton’s silence only convinced liberals that she secretly supported free-trade policies.

The brightest glimmer of hope for the Sanders campaign has come from his fund raising, with more than $4 million collected on his campaign website, even as Mr. Sanders abstains from super PACs and mega-donors that he says has poisoned the political process with unaccounted money since the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.

He boasts that the average contribution of about $43 demonstrates that support for his campaign comes from typical American voters and not from big corporations and the super wealthy.

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