WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Bernie Sanders, who saw his once strong lead in the Democratic primary evaporate as the party’s establishment lined swiftly up behind rival Joe Biden, ended his presidential bid on Wednesday, acknowledging the former vice president is too far ahead for him to have any reasonable hope of catching up.
The Vermont senator’s announcement makes Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee to challenge President Donald Trump in a general election campaign that will be waged against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sanders initially exceeded sky-high expectations about his ability to recreate the magic of his 2016 presidential bid, and even overcame a heart attack last October. But he found himself unable to convert unwavering support from progressives into a viable path to the nomination, with “electability” fears fueled by questions about whether his democratic socialist ideology would be palatable to general election voters.
“The path toward victory is virtually impossible,” Sanders told supporters Wednesday. “If I believed we had a feasible path to the nomination I would certainly continue the campaign, but it’s just not there.”
He called Biden a “very decent man” but didn’t offer an explicit endorsement of the former vice president. Sanders said his name would remain on the ballot in states that have not yet held primaries so he can gain more delegates and “exert significant influence” on the Democratic platform.
Biden credited Sanders for creating “a movement” and appealed to his progressive supporters.
“I see you, I hear you, and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country,” Biden said. “I hope you will join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed.”
Sanders began his latest White House bid facing questions about whether he could win back the supporters who chose him four years ago as an insurgent alternative to Hillary Clinton. Despite winning 22 states in 2016, there were no guarantees he’d be a major presidential contender this cycle.