Photos capture how Bernie Sanders went from being a working-class kid in Brooklyn to a top 2020 Democratic presidential candidate

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Dover, New Hampshire, on September 1, 2019.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Dover, New Hampshire, on September 1, 2019.

Brian Snyder/Reuters

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, 78, has surged ahead in the 2020 Democratic primary election, running toe-to-toe with former Vice President Joe Biden.

  • Sanders took the lead in early voting after winning the first three states: Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. He has since fallen slightly behind Biden, who dominated the vote on Super Tuesday.

  • For nearly four decades, Sanders has been fighting against the people and institutions he views as responsible for rigging the system against the middle class.

  • Once viewed on the fringe of politics, Sanders’ democratic socialist platform has taken a stronghold since he first ran for president in 2016.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for president in February 2019, following a 2016 campaign run that brought him to the forefront of the political conversation in the US.

Since entering the race, Sanders has quickly gained traction. In February, he became the first presidential candidate in history to win all three early voting states, and despite swearing off of private fundraising, he has raised more money than any other candidate.

Claiming the mantle of democratic socialism, Sanders has railed against a consistent set of targets: Wall Street, multinational corporations, the billionaire class, and the political elite. Throughout his career, he’s fought them for ganging up to “rig the system” against working class Americans.

As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, then a House Representative, and later a US senator from the state, he’s repeatedly assailed the “establishment”, calling for sweeping reforms to remake the nation’s economy in a more Scandinavian image.

Sanders has popularized progressive reform such as universal healthcare, increased minimum wage, and debt-forgiveness for college students. Today, many Democratic candidates are running on ideas Sanders championed.

The Vermont senator has long been guarded about his personal life, instead opting to sell his vision of wholesale revolution on the campaign trail. But he’s shared more details about his early life in Brooklyn in an effort to connect with voters amid a crowded primary where he is not the only progressive firebrand running for president.

Here’s how Sanders went from being a working-class kid in Brooklyn to a top 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Sanders was born on September 8, 1941 in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. His father was a Jewish paint salesman who immigrated from Poland while his mother was a homemaker raised in New York.

Bernie Sanders as a child
Bernie Sanders as a child

Courtesy of the Sanders campaign

Source: Time, The New Yorker

Sanders grew up in a small, rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn. He played in the streets, attended Hebrew school, and liked to frequent Chinese and Jewish delis.

Bernie Sanders child Brooklyn
Bernie Sanders child Brooklyn

Bernie Sanders campaign via AP

Source: Time

Sanders said his family struggled to make ends meet throughout his childhood. “It wasn’t a question of putting food on the table. It was a question of arguing about whether you buy this or whether you buy that. You know, families do this. I remember a great argument about drapes—whether we could afford them,” he said.

Bernie Sanders family photo
Bernie Sanders family photo

Courtesy of the Sanders campaign

Source: The New Yorker

After his mother died, Sanders studied for a year at Brooklyn College and soon wound up at the University of Chicago. He threw himself into protests for the desegregation of Chicago public schools and led a sit-in on campus aimed at integrating university housing. He was once arrested for his activism.

Bernie Sanders at the University of Chicago
Bernie Sanders at the University of Chicago

Courtesy of the Sanders campaign

Source: Time, The New Yorker

Through the 1970s, Sanders ran four failed campaigns on Vermont’s anti-war Liberty Union Party, twice for senator and twice for governor. But in 1980, he won the mayoral race in Burlington, Vermont, as an independent by only 10 votes.

bernie sanders
bernie sanders

AP Photo/Donna Light

Source: The New Yorker

Sanders transformed Burlington into a bastion of progressivism and left-wing activism. He oversaw a period of economic growth, and also established an arts council, women’s commission, and a youth office.

Bernie Sanders, Mayor of Burlington, Vermont
Bernie Sanders, Mayor of Burlington, Vermont

AP Photo/Donna Light

Source: The New Yorker

The Burlington mayor also added a diplomatic layer to his municipal duties. He traveled to Nicaragua, the Soviet Union, and Cuba to forge closer links with leftist governments.

Bernie Sanders mayor
Bernie Sanders mayor

AP Photo/Bob Child

He would also lambaste then-President Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist and interventionist foreign policy.

Source: The New York Times

In the winter of 1987, Sanders recorded “We Shall Overcome,” a folk album with a message of peace, justice, and human rights.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

Source: NPR

A year later, Sanders married Jane O’Meara, who was director of Burlington’s youth programs at the time. “He asked me to dance, and we’ve been together ever since,” O’Meara Sanders said. She is now his closest adviser.

Bernie Sanders and Jane Sanders
Bernie Sanders and Jane Sanders

Courtesy of the Sanders campaign

Source: Irish Times

Sanders was first elected to the House in 1990 as a socialist candidate. He ran on a platform of slamming more taxes on the rich and slashing military spending, and won by a hefty 17-point margin.

Bernie Sanders elected to the House of Representatives
Bernie Sanders elected to the House of Representatives

AP Photo/Rob Swanson

Source: The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post

In 1991, Sanders was one of the founding members and the first chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It had six members then, but it’s now ballooned to 96 lawmakers.

Bernie Sanders in Congress
Bernie Sanders in Congress

AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander

Source: The New Yorker

But Sanders initially struggled landing prestigious committee assignments given his non-partisan affiliation as an independent and his outspoken progressive ideals.

Rep. Bernie Sanders
Rep. Bernie Sanders

Photo by Maureen Keating/ CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Source: The New Yorker

Sanders didn’t make many friends early on in Congress. He once said he wouldn’t mind if 80% of its members lost their reelection bids and described Congress as “impotent.”

Rep. Bernie Sanders in Congress, 2002
Rep. Bernie Sanders in Congress, 2002

REUTERS/Chris Helgren

A Massachusetts Democratic lawmaker later derided the Vermont congressman, saying, “He screams and hollers, but he is all alone.”

Source: The New York Times Magazine

In the House, Sanders developed a reputation for being an outsider, opting to chart his own path rather than compromise. He opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and voted against the Brady Bill five times, a pro-gun control piece of legislation.

Rep. Bernie Sanders in Congress
Rep. Bernie Sanders in Congress

Jeff Wolfram/Roll Call/Getty Images

Source: ProPublica, CBS News

Sanders repeatedly grilled Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan at House Financial Services Committee hearings.

Alan Greenspan in 2003
Alan Greenspan in 2003

Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images

After the Fed chair said in 2003 that American workers enjoyed the world’s highest quality of life, Sanders retorted: “Wrong, mister. You go to Scandinavia, and you will find that people have a much higher standard of living, in terms of education, health care, and decent paying jobs.”

Source: The Boston Globe

Sanders twice pushed to pass legislation to allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs. It failed both times in the early 2000s. He later said about Congress: “Nobody knows how this place is run. If they did, they’d go nuts.”

Rep. Bernie Sanders
Rep. Bernie Sanders

Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times, ProPublica, Rolling Stone

In 2006, Sanders won his Senate campaign by a whopping 33-point margin and started caucusing with Democrats.

Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2007
Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2007

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Source: The New York Times, Politico

During the financial crisis, Sanders tried blocking the renomination of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, saying he was “an architect of the Bush economy” who had sunk the nation into a recession.

Bernie Sanders and Ben Bernanke
Bernie Sanders and Ben Bernanke

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Source: The Boston Globe

As the Affordable Care Act was being debated, Sanders viewed it as a “pathetic” alternative to the federally funded single-payer healthcare system he championed for decades. But Senate Democrats brought him on board as a step in the right direction.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, 2009
Sen. Bernie Sanders, 2009

Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times

After former President Barack Obama made a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts in 2010, Sanders ripped into the agreement with an eight-hour filibuster-style speech. The defiant gesture energized progressives, and he turned the speech into a book.

Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2012
Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2012

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Source: Politico, The New York Times

Sanders worked with Sen. John McCain on bipartisan legislation in 2014 to reform medical care for veterans. It infused $5 billion in more funding for the Department of Veteran Affairs to hire new medical staff, and made it easier for veterans to seek care outside the system as well as to fire inept VA employees.

John McCain
John McCain

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Source: The New Yorker

Sanders first ran for president in 2015 on a platform of economic populism, seeking to tax the rich, rein in big banks, and champion “Medicare for All.” His insurgent campaign against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton lasted well into 2016, and he won 23 primary races.

bernie sanders
bernie sanders

REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

Source: The New Yorker

During the 2016 presidential primary race, Sanders gained more of the youth vote than both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.

Bernie Sanders youth vote
Bernie Sanders youth vote

Luke William Pasley/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

After Trump was elected president, Sanders fought to defend Obamacare from being gutted by Republicans. And he continued staging events around the country to spread his progressive message, particularly in rural areas where he believed Democrats failed to make enough inroads in 2016.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

Getty/Alex Edelman

Source: The New Yorker

Sanders announced his second presidential campaign in February 2019. But his anti-establishment appeal was tested as Sanders entered a crowded Democratic primary where other candidates also embraced a $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, and tuition-free college. Sen. Elizabeth Warren emerged as one of his main rivals.

Bernie Sanders Brooklyn rally
Bernie Sanders Brooklyn rally

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Source: The Washington Post

Just 10 hours after announcing his candidacy, Sanders received $4 million from nearly 150,000 individual donors.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Sanders sought early on to quell concerns over past stumbles on racial issues and reports of sexism and other harassment in his 2016 campaign. Yet he became the primary frontrunner, again relying on a similar coalition of young voters and working-class voters that powered his previous run with a torrent of online donations.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

Loren Elliott/Reuters

Source: The New York Times

Sanders traveled to Canada just before the first Democratic debate in June to point out the skyrocketing cost of insulin and other prescription drugs in America and how much lower prices were just over the northern border. Canada’s comprehensive universal healthcare system has invited comparisons to Medicare for All in the US.

Bernie Sanders in Canada, insulin
Bernie Sanders in Canada, insulin

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times

Healthcare is a key area of debate in the primary. The Sanders Medicare for All plan would insure every American with comprehensive health insurance paid for by the government and essentially get rid of private coverage.

Bernie Sanders Healthcare Right Medicare for All Rally
Bernie Sanders Healthcare Right Medicare for All Rally

Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Its estimated price tag is over $30 trillion in the first decade of implementation. But Sanders argues any tax increases to pay for it would be offset by cost savings.

Source: NPR, Business Insider

At the July Democratic debate, Sanders defended his signature Medicare for All proposal against attacks from moderate candidates who accused him of not knowing whether it would cover every healthcare need. “I do know it,” he said. “I wrote the damn bill!”

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Source: The New York Times

Sanders has aligned his presidential campaign with the legacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. He called for a “21st-century economic Bill of Rights” to address varying aspects of American life in healthcare, the environment, wages, education, affordable housing, and the environment.

FILE PHOTO: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) takes the stage at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S. September 7, 2019. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) takes the stage at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S. September 7, 2019. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl/File Photo

Reuters

Source: The New York Times

The 78-year-old Sanders suffered a heart attack in October, heightening scrutiny around age in the Democratic primary. His campaign canceled events for the week and he was admitted to a hospital for two days. “See you soon on the campaign trail,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Source: The Washington Post

 

 

Some believed the Sanders campaign was irreparably harmed as a result of the senator’s heart attack. But the candidate bounced back at a New York City campaign rally and scored an endorsement from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a major progressive figure.

Bernie Sanders nyc rally
Bernie Sanders nyc rally

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at a New York City campaign rally.

The rally drew 25,000 people to Long Island City in Queens, New York.

Source: Business Insider

AOC and Sanders campaigned together in Iowa, bringing their message of political revolution to a state where the Vermont senator was rebooting his campaign.

Sanders AOC
Sanders AOC

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Source: Politico, The New York Times

In February, Sanders claimed victory in the first three voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, putting him in the lead as the national frontrunner.

Bernie Sanders Iowa
Bernie Sanders Iowa

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

But Joe Biden jumped ahead on Super Tuesday, after sweeping the vote in 10 out of the 14 states up for grabs. Biden won the delegate-rich state of Texas, but Sanders is projected to take home the biggest prize: California.

biden sanders super tuesday 4x3
biden sanders super tuesday 4×3

Robyn Beck/Getty; Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

Super Tuesday put Sanders slightly behind Biden in the delegate count. Biden saw a strong victory among Southern and older black voters, while Sanders saw success among young people and Latinos.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider

In an attempt to halt Sanders in the primaries, former Democratic candidates Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bloomberg have dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden.

Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg
Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

Source: Business Insider

Insider polling suggests that Sanders is viewed as the most left-leaning candidate in the field, and the second-most qualified after Biden. After Super Tuesday, there are still 131 days until the Democratic National Convention, and 244 days until Election Day.

bernie sanders
bernie sanders

Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images

Source: Business Insider

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