Vermont senator Bernie Sanders reportedly will announce tomorrow that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. He will start the race with several handicaps. First is his age: he is 73 now, and will be 75 on Inauguration Day, older than any first-term president. Second is his affiliation: though he votes with the Democrats he is actually an independent and has never (I think) run for office as a Democrat. Third is his political bent: he is unashamedly liberal and is known for his rants against Wall Street. Fourth is his home state: Vermont ranks 49th in population among the states and has only 3 electoral votes. Fifth is his strong opponent: the only other announced candidate, Hillary Clinton, has a large campaign organization already, has more than 60% support among Democrats, and may raise more than $1 billion for the campaign.
He can't do anything about his age, but he can turn the other four points into positives. Not having been part of the Democratic political machinery, he can portray himself as a populist candidate, which Mrs. Clinton, because of her strong corporate backing, can't. He can also point to his having been mostly right about the expensive Iraq war, which Mrs. Clinton can't. (Democrats may find it difficult to reconcile an attempt by Mrs. Clinton to claim common ground with the rank and file with the financial operations of the Clinton Foundation.) Wall Street is out of favor politically; it's a good time to be a populist. His home state is tiny and offers no meaningful electoral support -- but it's next door to New Hampshire, where the first primary will be held, making Sen. Sanders the nearest thing to a hometown candidate, and which will give him a strong boost in the primary. And Mrs. Clinton's broad support is partly because she's been the only candidate and has been seen as the inevitable nominee for the past four years.
His biggest challenge will be to raise enough money to get his message across to the voters in the primaries and to establish a ground organization in the caucus states. Mrs. Clinton is still the most likely nominee, but she's no longer a sure bet.