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Bernie Sanders officially launches Democratic presidential campaign

Self-described democratic socialist will challenge presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton from the left

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders kicked off his long-shot presidential campaign Tuesday with a rally and a pitch to progressives in the Democratic Party and others who want change from a “rigged economy” that favors the rich.

Sanders vowed to make income inequality, campaign finance reform and climate change mitigation 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 prepared remarks at the rally. The event came several weeks after Sanders announced his candidacy. But this time there was free ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s, the Vermont-based ice cream company co-founded by longtime Sanders supporters.

In a policy-heavy announcement speech delivered from Burlington, Vermont — where Sanders once governed as mayor — he vowed to fight for initiatives such as a Medicare-for-all single-payer health care program and universal pre-K schooling.

He is trying to capture the support of left-leaning Democrats wary of Clinton — a group that has pined for months for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to get in the race.

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 — 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 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 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 he can tap into the party’s Warren wing and influence Clinton’s policy positions remains unclear. But he has been at the forefront of progressive causes, and Clinton has seemed to be tacking to the left.

He has introduced legislation to make tuition free at public colleges and universities, and Clinton’s campaign has signaled that she intends to make debt-free college a major piece of her campaign.

Al Jazeera and Associated Press

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