Railing against the influence of money in politics, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders laid out a blueprint for a presidential campaign in his first press conference since announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination.
Just steps outside the Capitol, with a wisp of white hair atop his head waving in the wind, Sanders delivered brief remarks to the assembled crowd of reporters, cameramen and a few supporters or bystanders. He took a handful of questions before rushing back inside, just more than 10 minutes after he'd arrived. "The major issue is how do we create an economy that works for all of our people, rather than just millionaires and billionaires," said Sanders, who never uttered the word "president" at the event.
The senator, a self-identified socialist and an elected independent who caucuses with Democrats, shot down the idea that his quixotic presidential bid was just an effort to highlight certain issues.
"Oh no, not at all," he said. "We’re in this race to win."
He starts out his campaign as a long-shot for the nomination against Hillary Rodham Clinton. He avoided the former secretary of State in his brief remarks, saving his ire for billionaires, particularly the Koch brothers, who have said they expect to spend close to $1 billion on the 2016 race.
And when asked what he thought would make him a better nominee than Clinton, Sanders used kid gloves.
"It’s too early, we don’t know where Hillary stands on all the issues," he said.
He instead touted his own record of opposing the Iraq War — which Clinton voted for as a senator — and opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans Pacific Partnership.
When a reporter brought up the Clinton Foundation's acceptance of donations from foreign nations Clinton was dealing with at the State Department, Sanders called it "fair game" for his campaign. But, he said, "what is more fair game for my campaign is the role of money in politics," rapping the Koch Brothers again.
The influence of money in politics, he said, almost kept him out of the race.
"One of the hesitancies that I had about deciding whether to run or not was obviously dealing with money," he said. "I’m not gonna get money from the Koch brothers. And I’m not gonna get money from billionaires. I’m gonna have to raise my campaign contributions to BernieSanders.com, small individual contributions. That’s how I’m gonna do it."
But, he said, he wondered if it was even possible anymore "for any candidate who is not a billionaire or who is not beholden to the billionaire class to be able to run a successful campaign."
Sanders pledged to never run negative ads — something he said he's never done in any election. Of course, he hasn't faced a close race recently, winning with at least 63 percent in his two Senate and four House elections since 1998.
"I hate and detest these 30-second, ugly, negative ads. ... This is not the Red Sox versus the Yankees. This is the debate over major issues facing the American people," he said.
But he differentiated between negative ads and pointing out the disagreements he has on the issues with other candidates.
About an hour later Sanders appeared live on CNN from the cable station's studio a short walk from the Capitol, raising the same question about whether a candidate who lacks close ties to wealthy donors can compete.
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