The 78-year Vermont senator, who took once fringe policies such as universal healthcare to the heart of the nation’s political conversation, told staff on Wednesday that he saw no way forward.
His decision – widely anticipated after the 77-year-old Mr Biden seized the momentum in the race to become the Democratic nominee – came a day after the Wisconsin primary, his last real chance to kick-start his flailing campaign, was overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis.
“I wanted to just let everyone know that in a half hour I will be publicly announcing the suspension of our campaign. Needless to say this is a very difficult and painful decision for me,” he reportedly told staff.
“There is no alternative.”
Later, in an address that was live-streamed from his home in Burlington, Vermont, Mr Sanders said he understood many of his supporters would have wanted him to remain in the race to the bitter end.
“I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful,” he said.
“And so today I’m announcing the suspension of my campaign. Please note that I do not make this decision lightly. In fact, it’s a very difficult and painful decision.”
Mr Sanders said he did not see a route to victory and as such could not in “good conscience” remain in the race.
However, in a move that will likely alarm the Democratic establishment and some in the Biden camp, the veteran democratic socialist said his name would not be removed from the ballot in the remaining primary elections and that he would continue to accrue delegates. He said this was an intentional tactic in order to try and have maximum influence over the party’s platform decided this summer.
“While [former] vice president Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform, and other functions,” he said. “Then together, standing united, we will go forward to defeat Donald Trump.”
He added: “As you all know, we have never been in just a campaign. We are a grassroots, multiracial, multigenerational movement, which has always believed that real change never comes from the top down, but always from the bottom up.
“We’ve taken on Wall Street, insurance companies, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, and the greed of the entire corporate elite.”
The campaign of Mr Sanders, who received the backing of progressive such as Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had been on the back foot despite early wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
After Mr Biden secured a landslide in South Carolina and the backing of other candidates such as Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar – both adamant Mr Sanders as the nominee would not only fail to secure the White House but also risked losing the House and members of the Senate – he struggled to recover.
He underperformed on Super Tuesday, unable to get out the sort of numbers he believed would secure him the nomination. After further disappointments in contests in places such as Michigan, his chances looked even more limited.
Ahead of Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday, his delegate count stood at 914, compared to 1,217 for Mr Biden. Wisconsin has 90 delegates, but it was unclear how many Mr Sanders was going to win.
While results will not be released for another week, a poll published this week by Marquette University Law School, gave the former vice president a lead of as many as 28 points over the Vermont senator.
Mr Biden said he was ready for a bruising general election fight and the challenge he now faces in trying to unite the Democratic Party’s liberal and moderate wings.
“It’s going to be a really rough and I suspect pretty mean campaign,” he told donors at an online fundraising event.
He also praised Mr Sanders and promised his ideas would be incorporated into his own White House run.
“I see you, I hear you, and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country,” Mr Biden said to Ms Sanders’s supporters. “I hope you will join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed.”
Meanwhile, Mr Trump also sought to appeal to Mr Sanders’s supporters and said the senator was treated unfairly by the Democratic Party establishment.
“This ended just like the Democrats & the DNC wanted, same as the Crooked Hillary fiasco. The Bernie people should come to the Republican Party, TRADE,” he tweeted.
Additional reporting by Reuters
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies