BURLINGTON, Vt. – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders kicked off his longshot presidential campaign Tuesday with a pitch to liberals in the Democratic Party and others who want change from a "rigged economy" that favors the rich.
Sanders vowed to make income inequality, a campaign finance overhaul and climate change his leading issues as he takes on Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
"This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about," the self-described democratic socialist said in remarks prepared for his rally. The event came several weeks after Sanders announced his candidacy — this time, the plan was to hand out free ice cream before his crowd of supporters.
He says there is "something profoundly wrong" when so much of the nation's income goes to the top 1 percent of all earners.
"I know what I believe," Sanders said in a fundraising email hours before his event, pushing back against "the billionaire class" trying to buy the election. "That's why today marks the beginning of our political revolution."
Sanders is trying to ignite a grassroots fire among left-leaning Democrats wary of Clinton — a group that pined for months for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to get in the race. Some still do.
But while Warren remains committed to the Senate, repeatedly saying she won't run for the White House, Sanders is laying out an agenda in step with the party's progressive wing and Warren's platform — reining in Wall Street banks, tackling college debt and creating a government-financed infrastructure jobs program.
Clinton is in a commanding position by any measure, far in front of both Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is widely expected to get into the race Saturday.
Yet Sanders' supporters in New Hampshire say his local ties and longstanding practice of holding town hall meetings and people-to-people campaigning — a staple in the nation's first primary state — will serve him well.
"Toward the Vermont border it's like a love-fest for Bernie," said Jerry Curran, an Amherst, New Hampshire, Democratic activist who has been involved in the draft Warren effort. "He's not your milquetoast left-winger. He's kind of a badass left-winger."
Sanders, an independent in the Senate who often votes with the Democrats, has raised more than $4 million since announcing in late April that he would seek the party's nomination. He suggested in the interview that raising $50 million for the primaries was a possibility. "That would be a goal," he said.
Whether Sanders can tap into the party's Warren wing and influence Clinton's policy agenda remains unclear. But he has been on the forefront of liberal causes as Clinton has seemed to be tacking to the left.
He's joined with Warren to drive opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal, arguing it would ship jobs overseas. Clinton has avoided taking a specific position on the trade deal.
He has introduced legislation to make tuition free at public colleges and universities, a major piece of Warren's agenda. Clinton's campaign has signaled that she intends to make debt-free college a major piece of her campaign.