10 Moments That Defined the Bernie Sanders Campaign

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Hillary Clinton asked supporters Wednesday for $27 donations “in honor of Bernie" Sanders, using her formal rival’s signature contribution amount to pay her respects to him a day after he endorsed her at a joint event in New Hampshire.

The endorsement effectively ended what had been one of the most unlikely presidential campaigns in modern presidential history.

Bernie Sanders Endorses Hillary Clinton for President 2:37

A cranky 74-year-old democratic socialist with no powerful allies took on the strongest non-incumbent frontrunner in generations and held his own.

Sanders never came close to winning, but nonetheless dramatically outperformed expectations and left his mark on the Democratic Party, of which he had never really been a member.

Here are 10 moments that defined the campaign:

1. His first giant rally: Mega-crowds became a hallmark of Sanders' presidential bid, but no one realized this potential until he visited Madison, Wisconsin, in early July of 2015. The campaign had to upgrade to larger and larger venues as RSVPs rolled in — until 10,000 people filled the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. “Tonight we have made a little bit of history,” he said. “Tonight we have more people at a meeting for a candidate for president of the United States than any other candidate has."

2. Those "damn emails”: By declaring during his first debate with Clinton in October that he was “sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” Sanders simultaneously cemented his image as a high-minded politician and robbed himself of what could have been an effective weapon against Clinton.

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3. A shady data breach: Sanders’ popularity came in large part from his seemingly unimpeachable integrity, as demonstrated in the “damn emails” moment. But the unauthorized retrieval of sensitive Clinton campaign data by his staffers revealed a darker side to the Sanders movement. Throughout the campaign, Sanders aides — and more often unaffiliated allies — were caught employing underhanded tactics.

At the same time, the breach, which introduced the world to Sanders’ aggressive campaign manager Jeff Weaver, also showed that the Vermonter was no pacifist hippie when it came to political combat. Sanders went on offense against the Democratic National Committee for shutting off the campaign’s access to their own data, turning what should have been a devastating storyline into one about whether the DNC was treating Sanders fairly.

4. A jaw-dropping fundraising report: When Sanders top strategist Tad Devine told reporters in early 2015 that he thought the senator could raise $50 million, many laughed. Sanders ended up raising $229 million, thanks to an army of grassroots donors. The first real demonstration of the prowess came in January, when Sanders stunned analysts by raising $20 million in the previous month. He would go on to double that amount in later months and even out-raise Clinton’s own well-oiled money machine.

Related: Democrats Advance Most Liberal Platform Ever

5. The beginning of the end in Nevada: After a virtual tie in Iowa — or a narrow loss, as the Clinton campaign prefers to call it — and a blowout victory in New Hampshire, Sanders for a moment looked like he might actually pose a mortal threat to Clinton's campaign. That moment passed when he lost the Nevada caucus, which Sanders allies thought he would win. His strategy was built on using early state victories as a momentum sling shot for later states, so the loss in Nevada was the beginning of a long decline. From then on, Sanders fell short of expected wins, aside an upset victory in Michigan.

6. His electoral Achilles heel: Shortly after Nevada came Super Tuesday, which exposed Sanders’ major vulnerability: States with diverse constituencies. Clinton blew out the South, thanks to its large African-American population, and piled up huge delegate hauls in the process. Sanders was never able to win a state where the electorate was less than 70 percent white.

7. The race of no return: If Nevada started Sanders’ fall back to earth, New York made it irreversible. The candidate had gone all in on the Empire state, but Clinton’s superior campaign organization ran circles around him in the rough-and-tumble press. Sander’s unusual decision to take precious time off the campaign trail to visit to The Vatican may have hurt him and suggests he realized winning was probably out of reach.

8. Enter Birdie Sanders: In the dark later days of the campaign, Sanders supporters’ hopes rested increasingly on conspiracy theory, Pollyannish reading of polls and party nominating rules, and even divine intervention. When a bird ?— quickly dubbed “Birdie Sanders” — landed on Sanders’ podium during speech in Portland, it became an icon of the campaign and for some a sign that someone upstairs was looking out for Sanders.

Bird Steals Spotlight at Sanders Rally 1:20

9. When the tone turned dark: What started as positive campaign about policy turned darker, more negative, and process-oriented as Sanders' prospects fell. Supporters were booing Clinton's name at rallies and Sanders' own rhetoric was turning darker, culminating in April when he called the former secretary of state and first lady "unqualified" to be president. His supporters' animosity peaked the next month when they turned the Nevada state Democratic Convention into chaos.

10. And in the end: Despite the dark stretch, Sanders ended the campaign where it began. He got into the race hoping to push the Democratic Party, its nominee, and, by extension, American politics to the left. He succeeded in doing so with the party's platform, a document that may be the longest lasting legacy of Sanders’ campaign. And he closed on a positive note, giving Clinton a full-throated endorsment and pledging to “go to every corner of this country” to help her win.