Originally Published 2015-07-08 00:00:00 Published on Jul 08, 2015
Unlike the crowded and competitive Republican presidential nomination field, the Democratic field, for a long time, looked empty with only Hillary Clinton. The strong entry of Sanders in the Democratic nomination has given the American voters a fair choice between Clinton and Sanders' respective brands of politics.
Sanders narrows down the gap with Clinton

On 26 May 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont (Independent) officially announced his decision to run the White House race. Though Bernie Sanders announced his bid for Democratic Party nomination amid little fanfare—in a press conference at Waterfront Park in his hometown, Burlington—his campaign has already gained momentuma month after his announcement. Sanders has managed to pique the interest of voters, drawing large crowds with his message on bridging economic inequalities in America. Sanders is gradually being viewed as a credible voice for middle-class America and presents an increasingly strong alternative for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party nomination.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, entered the presidential race a bit later, in April 2015. In almost all the surveys conducted so far by Fox News, CNN Opinion Research, ABC News/Wash Post and Quinnipiac, Clinton has been leading by a wide margin with a staggering gap between Bernie Sanders and herself. Slowly, however, the 73-year-old, self-declared democratic socialist Sanders hasbeen been able to change his initial measly ratings into more favourable ones, albeit in small increments. In a latest Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll conducted 25 to 29 May of likely Democratic caucus-goers, Sen. Sanders (I-VT) polled 47 percent favourable to 12 percent unfavourable. Unlike the Republican presidential nomination field which is crowded and competitive, for a long time the Democratic field looked empty with only Hillary Clinton running for presidency. The strong entry of Sanders in the Democratic nomination has given the American voters a fair choice between Clinton and Sanders' respective brands of politics.

Bernie Sanders has been a staunch advocate of the American middle-class. His public pronouncements have often decried what he referred to as "the disappearance of the great middle class" in America. He has pointed to estimates that 99 percent of all new income that is being generated by the American economy goes to the top one percent of the population. He has gone on to question the morality of such an economy where the top one percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Sanders believes that the middle class is getting tired of working longer hours for low wages while the American economy is sliding into economic and political oligarchy. His populist economic measures talk about providing assistance to workers who wish to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations. Sanders stands for developing new economic models to increase job creation and productivity; he also gives an impetus to the idea of workers' unions. According to Sanders, America needs legislation which makes it clear that when a majority of workers sign cards in support of a union, they can form one. Sanders also takes a populist position on the issue of raising workers' minimum wage to a living wage, as well as empowering women workers with equal pay for equal work. These populist economic measures have struck a nerve with the American middle-class, enabling Sanders to draw a huge voters' support base. Although, in recent weeks, what has put him back on the Democratic presidential nomination map is his strong opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

Strong opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

On 24 June 2015 the Republican-controlled Senate finally passed legislation that gives the President of the United States the power to expedite negotiations with 11 other countries that are party to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The vote, which passed 60-38, was a significant victory for multinational corporations which have been lobbying hard for a trade agreement. TPP is expected to lower tariffs and create new regulations for sectors as diverse as agriculture, banking and the pharmaceutical industry. This trade promotion bill has met with strong opposition from different quarters and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has made opposing this trade bill a vibrant part of his election campaign. In opposing the TPP, Sanders has outlined his position by stating that former trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and the granting of Permanent Normal Trade Relations to China, have all been abysmal failures. In a recently published op-ed piece, Sanders writes that free-trade agreements have only allowed corporations to shut down operations in the US and move work to low-wage countries where people are forced to work for pennies an hour. He further adds that due to free-trade agreements, America has lost almost 60,000 factories and millions of good-paying jobs since 2001. Sanders' position on the TPP and his work against unfair trade deals has appealed to millions of voters. He has been able to re-energise his vote base which is down by just 8 points vis-a-vis Clinton in New Hampshire and has gained tremendous momentum in Iowa. As large numbers of Democrats have come together to oppose the TPP, Sanders' opponent Hillary Clinton has found herself in a difficult position as she previously had expressed support for the deal. Sanders' position on trade deals has galvanised his support base, catapulting him to the forefront of the Democratic Party nominations while Clinton continues to grapple with her defense against email and foreign donor scandals.

Meeting the challenges

Supporters have acknowledged that Sanders can create serious damage to Clinton's votes, coupled with Sanders' display of confidence on winning the primaries. He has recently stated, "We are going to win New Hampshire. We're going to win Iowa, and I think we're going to win the Democratic nomination, and I think we're going to win the presidency". In spite of his increasing voters' base, however, it appears that his dream of occupying the Oval Office will not be a walk in the park. For example, a recent poll indicates that he has a low support base among non-white voters. Responding to questions about this, Sanders emphasisedthat he has spent years fighting for civil rights. It is his firm belief that his economic message would resonate well with the minority communities as well. He also added that his long history of fighting for the rights of the middle class would be viewed favourably among the Hiic and other minority populations. Several critics have also raised concerns regarding his age: on Election Day, he would be 75 years old. Sen. Sanders' response is straightforward: that he has been blessed with good health and endurance and is completely prepared to undertake all the responsibilities of the Oval office. Another criticism against the Senator is that he lacksexperience in foreign policy and has been mostly silent on important foreign-policy issues. Compared to Clinton's vast foreign policy experiences, Sanders has only made few statements on foreign policy. One of those proclamations was related to the Middle East:in a recent interview, Sanders argued that the Middle Eastern nations should do the bulwark of fighting against the Islamic State.He has also declared his opposition to the Iraq war.

Sanders has been able to successfully attract a huge number of supporters due to his ideological credentials and populist measures of narrowing existingincome inequalities. It is reported in the Boston Herald that a recent CNN/WMUR poll showed Sanders nipping at the heels of once-dominant Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, with a margin of just eight points between them. These are significantly positive signs for Bernie Sanders as several American voters view Clinton as an embodiment of the existing political establishment and indicate American voters' willingness to understand Sanders' brand of politics.

(The writer is a research scholar with Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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