Bernie Sanders Challenges Hillary Clinton In A Very Real Way That Makes The Democratic Primaries A Real Competition

Hillary Clinton has often been described as the "all-but-certain" Democratic presidential nominee for years (even before she officially declared her candidacy last month), but Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who calls himself a "democratic socialist," could bring real competition to the party's primaries, more than people give him credit for. That's because, with his grassroots campaign and progressive views against income inequality, Bernie Sanders challenges Hillary Clinton in a very real way that resonates with younger Americans. Sanders is rough around the edges where Clinton is refined — and that makes for a potentially exciting and viable opponent to the Clinton machine.

Sanders announced he was running for president at the end of April, and already there have been signs that he's more than just a long shot vote. Last Friday, Sanders' camp announced it raised more than $1.5 million in the first 24 hours since announcing his candidacy. That put the Independent ahead of what Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul individually raised in their first-day campaigns. On Wednesday, Sanders said he raised $3 million in four days. Roughly 75,000 contributions came in, with the average donation at $43. According to The Huffington Post, 99.4 percent of the donations were $250 or less. So when Sanders said he wanted to run a grassroots campaign, he really meant it.

Sanders' advisers estimated he'll need $50 million to make a real berth at the first caucuses in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll showed state support for Sanders doubled from February to 13 percent. Though that same poll had Clinton with 51 percent of the vote, 20 percent said they supported Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who repeatedly has said she won't run in 2016. Should those voters find their way to fellow progressive Sanders, suddenly the dark horse is a shade or two lighter.

In an interview with ABC News, Sanders declared he wouldn't start a super PAC — he's never accepted corporate PAC money, according to The Washington Post. Clinton and many of the other GOP candidates, who rely on super PAC money, will soon lap Sanders' campaign raise (if they haven't already), but Sander's strong initial showing demonstrates that he isn't just a placeholder candidate, and his growing popularity proves his calls to "take on the billionaire class" aren't just falling on deaf ears. More than 185,000 supporters have signed up to his website, his campaign said.

Now, whether Sanders will actually beat Clinton in the primaries is pretty unlikely. But with so much talk about Clinton's easy road to the general election, Sanders' candidacy represents one of the most American ideals ever — choice. Which will make the Democratic primary just as fun to watch as the chaotic mess that is the GOP field.