Sanders quits U.S. presidential race, setting up Biden battle with Trump

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders addresses a news conference in Burlington, Vermont, U.S. March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist whose progressive agenda pushed the Democratic Party sharply to the left, ended his White House campaign on Wednesday, clearing the way for a Nov. 3 election battle between former Vice President Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump.

Sanders, a onetime front-runner who promised to lead a grassroots political revolution into the White House, acknowledged he no longer had a path to victory after a string of decisive nominating contest losses to Biden but promised to work with his more moderate former rival to oust Trump.

The independent U.S. senator from Vermont said the coronavirus outbreak, which has taken him off the campaign trail and limited his ability to get his message out, required a broad response and urgent attention in Congress.

“I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win, and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour,” he said in a livestreamed speech to supporters from his hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

Sanders, 78, called it a “difficult and painful decision” but said he would stay on the ballot in future primaries and continue to gather delegates in order to push the Democratic platform toward his populist anti-corporate agenda, including a government-run healthcare system and tax hikes for the rich.

The departure of Sanders, Biden’s last remaining rival in a field that once included more than two dozen candidates, sets up a long battle for the White House between the 77-year-old Biden and Trump, 73, who is seeking a second four-year term in office.

That matchup for the foreseeable future will revolve around Trump’s handling of the public health crisis that has upended all aspects of American life and rocked the country’s economy.

Biden on Wednesday signaled he was ready for a bruising general election fight and the challenge he now faces in trying to unite the Democratic Party’s liberal and moderate wings.

“It’s going to be a really rough and I suspect pretty mean campaign,” Biden told donors at an online fundraising event after Sanders’ announcement.

In a separate statement, he praised Sanders and promised his ideas would be incorporated into Biden’s White House run. 

“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 to Sanders’ supporters. “I hope you will join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed.”

Winning over Sanders’ most ardent supporters will not be easy. Sanders’ speechwriter David Sirota said Biden should rethink his opposition to parts of Sanders’ agenda that opinion polls show are popular among Democratic voters.

“Biden’s campaign has to do its part to bring those voters into the fold and energize them in a real way, and they’re going to have to do more than just saying Donald Trump is bad. So far Biden has not done that,” Sirota said.