Sen. Bernie Sanders making his announcement online
Updated at 3:49 p.m.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has suspended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, bringing to a close his relentless and dogged pursuit of the presidency on a platform of progressive ideals for health, income and equality.
Despite a promising start for Sanders in the primary season and strong support from young people, Vermont's junior senator had faded in recent weeks, beginning with a disappointing Super Tuesday showing on March 3.
The slide continued into Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin, a contest Sanders was expected to lose to former vice president Joe Biden, now the presumptive Democratic nominee. Sanders won that state's primary in 2016 during his unsuccessful bid for the nomination against Hillary Clinton.
In a livestream video from Burlington on Wednesday, Sanders thanked supporters, surrogates and staff before launching into a shortened version of his patented stump speech. About nine minutes into the address, he acknowledged the nomination was not his to win, calling the decision to drop out a “difficult and painful” one.
“I wish I could give you better news,” Sanders said. “But I think you know the truth. And that is that we are now some 300 delegates behind vice president Biden, and the path toward victory is virtually impossible.”
“If I believed we had a feasible path to the nomination,” he continued, “I would certainly continue the campaign. But it’s just not there.”
In a statement Wednesday, Biden praised Sanders for creating a movement.
"And make no mistake about it, I believe it’s a movement that is as powerful today as it was yesterday," Biden wrote. "That’s a good thing for our nation and our future."
The presumed Democratic nominee also made an appeal to Sanders' supporters and promised to incorporate into his campaign some of the progressive ideals championed by the Vermont senator.
"I see you, I hear you, and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country," Biden wrote. "I hope you will join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed."
Sanders' decision to suspend his campaign in April stands in stark contrast to his 2016 presidential run, when he challenged Clinton into that July, just ahead of the Democratic National Convention.
This campaign, of course, is much different. Republican President Donald Trump is now running for reelection, and top Democrats have spoken openly about their fears of a protracted battle for the party’s nomination. In the middle of it all, the coronavirus pandemic has brought campaigning to a standstill, making a Sanders revival all the more difficult.
The only debate in which Biden and Sanders squared off head-to-head — on March 15, as the coronavirus began to rapidly spread in the U.S. — was held in Washington, D.C., without a live audience.
“As I see the crisis gripping the nation, exacerbated by a president unwilling or unable to provide any kind of credible leadership, and the work that needs to be done to protect people in this most desperate hour,” Sanders said, “I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win.”
Sanders did not completely bow out of the contest. While congratulating Biden, whom Sanders called “a very decent man,” the Vermont senator also vowed to remain on the ballot in states yet to vote. By retaining his already-won delegates and collecting more, Sanders argued his progressive movement could “exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions” at the Democratic National Convention.
“Then together, standing united, we will go forward to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history,” Sanders said.
Originally scheduled for July, the Milwaukee convention has been postponed until August — a date also subject to change given the current unknowns about the coronavirus crisis.
In the intervening months, nearly two dozen states are scheduled to hold primaries.
Sanders closed his 14-minute address by urging his supporters to keep advocating for the progressive values fostered by his grassroots campaign. He noted that his campaign slogan was, “Not me. Us.”
“Please stay in this fight with me,” Sanders said in closing. “Let us go forward, together. The struggle continues.”
In a statement on Sanders' decision, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) thanked his colleague and "friend of decades" for being "a strong voice on behalf of working people across America."
"My fellow Vermonters have long known what so many others have seen: a consistent advocate for health care for all, for economic justice, and for a democracy that remains in the hands of the American people as it should and not in the hands of a few," Leahy wrote.