Apr 30, 2015 3:33 AM

In presidential bid, Sanders warns not to underestimate him

The Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, says he will do more than simply raise progressive issues or nudge Hillary Rodham Clinton to the left.

"People should not underestimate me," Sanders told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday confirming his presidential bid. "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."

Sanders is the first major challenger to enter the race against Clinton, who launched her bid for president earlier this month and is considered the front-runner in the Democratic race. He is likely to be joined in the coming months by former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and ex-Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

As he has for months in prospective campaign stops in the early voting states, and throughout his political career, the former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, assailed an economic system that he said has devolved over the past 40 years and eradicated the nation's middle class.

"What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels," Sanders said.

"This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans. ... You know, this country just does not belong to a handful of billionaires."

The son of an immigrant from Poland who sold paint for a living in Brooklyn, Sanders, 73, has for decades championed working-class Americans. He lost several statewide races in the 1970s before he was elected mayor of Burlington in 1981, and went on to represent Vermont in the U.S. House for 16 years before his election to the Senate in 2006.

An independent, he caucuses with Senate Democrats and is likely to attract some interest from voters who have unsuccessfully sought to draft Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to join the race. But he rejected the idea that his appeal is limited to voters on the left, boldly predicting that his message would appeal to independents and Republicans.

Sanders said he would release "very specific proposals" to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations, as well as offer tuition-free education at all public colleges and universities. He touched on his past opposition to free-trade agreements, his support for heavier regulations of Wall Street and the nation's banking industry, and his vote against the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a preview of his campaign.

"So to me, the question is whose views come closer to representing the vast majority of working people in this country," he said. "And you know what? I think my views do."

Sanders starts his campaign as an undisputed underdog against Clinton. He said he has known the former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state for more than two decades. "I respect her and like her," he said.

He noted he has "never run a negative ad in my life," but still drew a distinction with Clinton, promising to talk "very strongly about the need not to get involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East."

"I voted against the war in Iraq," he said. "Secretary Clinton voted for it when she was in the Senate."

Clinton is hosting a series of fundraisers this week, starting what could be an effort that raises more than $1 billion. Sanders said he will make money and politics a central theme of his campaign, including a call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which he blames for unleashing a torrent of money from wealthy donors into politics.

"What you're looking at here is a real disgrace," he said. "It is an undermining of American democracy. But can we raise the hundreds of millions of dollars that we need, primarily through small campaign contributions to run a strong campaign? And I have concluded that I think there is a real chance that we can do that."


Follow Dave Gram on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/davegramap


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