How Bernie Sanders Is Raising Money Already Speaks To His Big Plan For 2016

Self described "democratic socialist" Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced his campaign for presidency Thursday, and within a few hours Sanders claimed to have raised half a million dollars from small donors. Sanders, who is running in the Democratic primary against overwhelming favorite Hillary Clinton, faces an uphill battle against the former secretary of state, who has achieved near universal name recognition and holds double digit leads in the polls. But if Sander's first day of fundraising is any indication, his campaign may take an unconventional road.

Sander's announcement was a low-key affair in front of reporters in Washington, D.C. Following the announcement, Sanders went to Iowa where he urged the media to focus on "real issues," like how we "create the millions of jobs that we need, how we make college education affordable, how we deal with climate change, how we preserve family-based agriculture."

Sanders has promised to run a campaign based on progressive values that includes support for single-payer healthcare for all, a $15 minimum wage, and comprehensive immigration reform. Though Sanders has some kinks to work through, like his hesitance to prioritize marijuana decriminalization, he has garnered support from progressive activists for being a outspoken critic of money in politics and advocate for campaign finance reform.

It may partially be his image as a reformer that has left some to dismiss Sander's campaign as long-shot by a rabble rouser. But what if that's just the point? In 2007, "serious" presidential contender John Edwards raised $14 million by the end of the first quarter after announcing his candidacy in December of 2006. With $8 million already banked, can Bernie Sander's money machine make him a serious contender in 2016 or is he just a fringe candidate with only the most outside chance of influencing the election?

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When that gyrocopter showed up in D.C. a couple of weeks ago, it came with a message. Florida resident Doug Hughes landed on the capitol grounds, where he came to deliver his concerns about the influence of money in politics, urging Congress to act on campaign finance reform.

Bernie Sanders wants to be the manifestation of that message. Sanders has sworn off Super PAC funding, vowing to rely largely on small donors. Over the years, Sanders has amassed an army of donors nationwide who are attracted to his reputation as a liberal firebrand. But his unorthodox and outspoken views on campaign finance have left Sander's national coverage somewhere between the jokes of Biden and the dreams of Warren and wholly off the scale of Clinton's dominance. Still, Sander's announcement garnered as much social media attention as rising GOP star Marco Rubio's (R-FL) announcement last month.

Sanders has promised to run a positive-leaning campaign, emphasizing policy over personal attacks, and looks to drive progressive priorities into the national discourse. But it remains to be seen if small donors will be enough to propel his candidacy through New Hampshire and into the early primary states of South Carolina and Nevada. In the end, that may not be the goal of the Sanders 2016 campaign. Like gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes, Sanders may just be looking to refocus the conversation. It should be noted that Hillary Clinton recently came out in support of a constitutional amendment to address campaign finance reform.

If the tweets between the only two declared democratic nominees for president are any indication, the debates are bound to be a platform for Sanders, and he can definitely thank his small donors for that.