October 13th saw the first debate between the Democratic Party candidates for the 2016 presidential election. It was the first time front-runner Hillary Clinton, who also ran as a candidate in the 2008 Presidential Election, has come face to face with her closest rival in the polls, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Before his Presidential campaign kicked off this year, Sanders, 74, was almost unheard of outside of his home state of Vermont. However, his brand of democratic-socialism has been drawing capacity crowds of people excited to hear his vision of the future of America. Alongside this, on social media, whilst still not yet a quarter of Hillary Clintons’ 4.6 million, his twitter followers numbers have been increasing at an unprecedented rate. His campaign messages are hitting home with younger voters in particular, highlighting income inequality and education costs in his thick Brooklyn accent.

Sanders attended the University of Chicago in the 1960’s, where he was actively involved in social justice and political groups, including becoming a member of the Young People’s Socialist League. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement as a student, leading protests and sit-ins against segregated campus housing, branding the policy an ‘intolerable situation’. Sanders, alongside being active in peace and antiwar movements, was one of the 250,000 who took part in the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King gave delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

His political career began in earnest when he was elected mayor of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, serving for eight years. Following this, he was a member of the House of Representatives for sixteen years, and became a senator in 2007. Whilst Sanders runs as an independent, he has been endorsed and supported by Democrats for many years, including being included in the Democratic Caucus in the Senate.

Unlike the majority of presidential candidates, Senator Sanders stands alongside controversial Republican nominee Donald Trump in refusing to accept funds offered through Super PACs, opposing what he says is ‘a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates’. Instead, Sanders campaign has saught out ‘grassroots’ support, relying on small donations from individuals contributors. More than 77% of the $30.7 million raised so far has come from individuals who gave less than $200.

The first Democratic debate saw Sanders and Clinton agreeing on one point, an end to the mentioning of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal: ‘Let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right. And that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!’. Senator Sanders talking points on the night highlighted his position as the most liberal of the candates, including raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare, campaign finance reform, expanding social security, criminal justice reform, pro-choice and LGBT rights. Sanders has however been critised by both Clinton and fellow liberals for not taking a stronger stance in relation to gun-control.

Despite his quick rise to 25% in the polls in recent months, Sanders is still very much trailing to Hillary’s 47%. However, with Hillary’s support falling in recent months, the skepticism surrounding the ability for a socialist to be elected president is being replaced by tentative talk of a political revolution in the United States. The first Democratic Primary takes place on the 1st of February, with elections scheduled to continue until late June, 2016.

  • Andrew Grossen