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Bernie Sanders' improbable revolution

Story highlights

  • For Sanders, who started this race as more stalking horse than viable candidate, fighting Hillary Clinton in a razor-thin contest in Iowa was more than enough
  • Without being a clear loss or win, it still gives Sanders momentum and the likely money boost that he will need for a long, drawn-out battle with Clinton

(CNN)Bernie Sanders finally got his political revolution.

It wasn't an outright victory. But, for Sanders, who started this race as more stalking horse than viable candidate, fighting Hillary Clinton in a razor-thin contest in Iowa was more than enough.
    "We had no money, we had no name recognition and we were taking on the most powerful political organization in the United States of America," Sanders said Monday from Des Moines. "And tonight while the results are still not known it looks like we are in a virtual tie. And that is why what Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution."
    Without being a clear loss or win, it still gives Sanders momentum and the likely money boost that he will need for a long, drawn-out battle with Clinton that could stretch well into the spring.
    "Whether we lose by a fraction of a point or we win or whatever, we're very proud of the campaign that we won and I think the significance is, for folks who did not think Bernie Sanders could win, that we could compete against Hillary Clinton, I hope that that thought is now gone," Sanders told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day" on Tuesday morning.
    "We're going to fight really hard in New Hampshire and then we're going to Nevada, to South Carolina, we're doing well around the country," he said shortly after his campaign plane landed n New Hampshire.
    It was just eight months ago that Sanders, who is now the most successful self-described democratic socialist in electoral politics, stood in Burlington, Vermont, to launch a White House bid that seemed like a long shot at best. Polls showed Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee, with 60% in May and Sanders with just 10% support.
    But an angry electorate, fed up with establishment politics, has tossed away many of the conventional rules of presidential politics. Sanders, as much as Donald Trump, embodied that with his rockstar-like rallies of thousands of supporters, millions of small donations that beat even President Barack Obama's vaunted online efforts and a singular message attacking Wall Street, unchecked campaign money and income inequality.
    "There is profound anger at a campaign finance system which allows billionaires to buy elections, nobody wants that," Sanders told Cuomo.
    Capitalizing on that opportunity meant making some important decisions early, and the first, possibly most important, was to go toe-to-toe with Clinton in every state they could, beginning with Iowa.
    "What we decided to do early on was to compete heavily in Iowa. We wanted the race to begin in Iowa and go on to New Hampshire," said Tad Devine, Sanders' top strategist. "She made that decision based on 2008, but we made that decision based on 2016."
    And Sanders has plenty of money to go the distance as well with a fundraising machine showing pulling in a few dollars at time. He raised $20 million in January alone, that on top of the $73 million he raised in 2015.
    Monday night, his campaign was already texting supporters, asking them each to give $10.

    Fighting with Clinton

    For young liberal activists, the blockbuster hit of the summer was not the possibility of first woman to win the White House -- it was Sanders, 74, who drew upwards of 10,000 people in mega-rallies across the country.
    The #FeeltheBern faithful cheered as Sanders delivered angry onehour lectures targeting corporate CEOs and oligarchs for rigging the economy.
    But as Sanders slowly rose in the polls, tension developed between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns -- raising the question of when it would finally break. Clinton persisted in raising questions of Sanders' positions on gun control (he eventually relented three weeks ago and said he would support a repeal of the gunmaker immunity law he supported in 2005).
    Sanders insisted throughout the race that he would not "go negative."
    But once the polls tightened in Iowa, the gloves came off and Clinton and Sanders threw the best they had at each other.
    Sanders followed his inspiring ad to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's "America" with a final ad in Iowa blasting Clinton for her ties to Goldman Sachs.
    And when Sanders dismissed Planned Parenthood's support for Clinton as "establishment" politics, Clinton hammered back saying he was dismissing one of the most important groups supporting women.
    Clinton meanwhile hit Sanders' Medicare-for-all health care plan as a pipe dream and threatened that he would end up dismantling liberal gains made under "Obamacare."
    One supporter in New Hampshire noted a key distinction between the two -- Sanders has been under fire in 2016, but Clinton has been under fire for at least four years and, realistically, even longer.
    "I think he's always been viable, I think Clinton has a tough time just like she did last time," said James Bragg, 61 of Dallas, who was trailing Sanders through New Hampshire in January, selling Sanders memorabilia.
    "The baggage has followed her," Bragg added. "And I think the Republicans have spent the last four or five years trying to beat her, so that's made it possible for someone else to come in like Bernie."