WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders ended his presidential bid on Wednesday, making Joe 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 couldn’t 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, who is backed by much of the party’s establishment, told supporters at a virtual fundraiser that he had a “short conversation” with Sanders on Wednesday.
“He didn’t just run a political campaign. He created a movement,” Biden said. “That’s a good thing for our nation and our future. His campaign has ended, but I know his leadership will continue.”
Trump sought to foment the tension among Democrats by tweeting Wednesday that the party stacked the race against Sanders. The president said the senator’s supporters “should come to the Republican Party.”
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.
But Sanders used strong polling and solid fundraising — collected almost entirely from small donations made online — to quiet early doubters. Like the first time, he attracted widespread support from young voters and made new inroads within the Hispanic community, even as his appeal with African Americans remained weak.
Sanders amassed the most votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, which opened primary voting, and cruised to an easy victory in Nevada — seemingly leaving him well positioned to sprint to the Democratic nomination while a deeply crowded and divided field of alternatives sunk around him.
But Biden won a crucial endorsement from influential South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and a subsequent, larger-than-expected victory in South Carolina, which propelled him into Super Tuesday, when he won 10 of 14 states.