Levi Sanders is an American legal services analyst and politician best known for being the son of Senator Bernie Sanders. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District as a Democrat in 2018. Though his famous last name gave him some initial support, Levi was unable to translate his family ties into electoral success.
Still, his run highlighted the durability of the Sanders political dynasty and impact on the progressive movement. Levi shares much of his father’s ideology and policy positions. While he may not have a political career of his own, he continues advocating for Democratic socialist ideals.
Background and Early Life
Levi Sanders was born on March 21, 1969 in New Hampshire to Bernie Sanders and Susan Campbell Mott. His father was just beginning his political career at the time, serving as the Liberty Union Party nominee for US Senate in 1972.
Levi spent much of his childhood in Vermont, where his father served as mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989. Bernie and Susan divorced in 1966, after which Bernie married Jane O’Meara Sanders in 1988.
Growing up, Levi likely gained an early education in progressive politics and got to know many of the figures who would later appear in his father’s circles. Bernie made education a priority, enrolling Levi in Montessori preschools.
Education and Early Career
Levi Sanders attended public school in Burlington, Vermont. After high school, he attended the University of Oregon and graduated in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in history.
After college, Sanders worked a variety of jobs including as a woodworker, an apple farmer, and a carpenter. He seems to have avoided politics in his early adulthood. Sanders also briefly taught English in Taiwan.
In the late 1990s, Sanders returned to school to become a legal aid lawyer to help low-income clients. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1999.
Marriage and Family
In 2006, Levi Sanders married Dr. Raine Riggs. She is an obstetrician-gynecologist affiliated with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. They reside in Claremont, New Hampshire with their adopted son Ryan.
Levi has helped care for Ryan, who was born with special needs. He credited Ryan for giving him perspective on the importance of healthcare. Sanders is also stepfather to Riggs’ three children from a previous marriage.
Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Presidential Campaign
When Bernie Sanders launched his campaign for president in 2015, Levi and his extended family played active supporting roles. His stepmother Jane managed Bernie’s campaign while Levi made appearances around the country.
Levi introduced his father at his official campaign launch in Burlington in May 2015. He also spoke at rallies, vouched for Bernie’s character, and gave media interviews during the primaries.
Though Hillary Clinton ultimately won the nomination, Bernie’s insurgent run brought Democratic socialism to the mainstream. It revealed an hunger among younger progressives for the policies that both Sanders advocated.
2018 Congressional Campaign
Announcing His Candidacy
In February 2018, Levi Sanders announced he would run for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District seat, which was open after Carol Shea-Porter’s retirement.
The news came right after his father’s State of the Union response which called for a political revolution. Some critics saw opportunism in the timing, but Levi said he was not planning to simply ride his father’s coattails.
At 48 years old, Levi was a New Hampshire native but had only recently returned after residing in Massachusetts. This opened him up to charges of district shopping.
Primary Campaign and Platform
Sanders ran on a policy platform very similar to his father’s, calling for Medicare for All, free public college, a $15 minimum wage, and other progressive priorities.
He relied heavily on individual small dollar donations, denouncing corporate PAC money. He criticized his primary opponents for accepting donations from special interests.
However, national progressive groups like Our Revolution that backed Bernie did not endorse Levi. He also lacked support from key local Democrats. Critics felt he had not paid his dues locally.
Election Results and Analysis
In the crowded 11-way Democratic primary on September 11, 2018, Levi Sanders finished second. Chris Pappas won the nomination with 42% of the vote, while Sanders trailed at 31%.
Sanders did well in university towns but struggled inpopulation centers like Manchester. Overall, he was buoyed primarily by name recognition rather than policy appeal.
Pappas went on to win the seat for Democrats in November. Sanders’ loss showed the limitations of banking on family political brand alone. But he made an important point about big money in politics.
Political Views and Comparison to Bernie Sanders
Alignment with Democratic Socialism
Like his father, Levi Sanders is a proponent of democratic socialism. He referred to it as an “economic philosophy that represents the interests of working families” during his campaign.
He frequently invoked Scandinavian countries with generous social welfare states as examples of successful democratic socialist models. This mirrored Bernie’s attempts to highlight policies in nations like Denmark.
Support for Progressive Policies
Levi strongly backed progressive policy priorities including universal healthcare, tuition-free college, workplace democracy, livable minimum wage, and taking big money out of politics.
His stances closely mirrored those of Bernie, with a heavy focus on reducing income inequality and providing broader economic opportunity.
Differences from Bernie Sanders
Observers noted that Levi seemed slightly less radical than Bernie in his rhetoric and policy vision. He spoke more about improving the Affordable Care Act rather than replacing the full system.
Levi also placed less emphasis on political revolution, focusing more on incremental gains. This likely reflected his more pragmatic approach to winning versus his father’s idealism.
Some chalked this up to generational differences, with Levi coming from a less countercultural era. Others felt it stemmed from Levi’s more introverted personality in contrast to Bernie.
Personal Life and Interests
Residence and Family
Though born in New Hampshire, Levi Sanders spent most of his life in Vermont before returning to his home state in late 2017.
He lives with his wife Raine Riggs and their son Ryan in Claremont. He has three stepchildren from Riggs’ previous marriage.
Family seems important to Sanders. Despite his father’s political ascent, Levi has maintained a relatively low profile over the years focused on his immediate family.
Hobbies and Interests
Outside of legal aid work and raising his son, Sanders enjoys carpentry, woodworking, and soccer. He does not seem to seek out the political limelight the way Bernie has.
After losing in 2018, Levi has stayed out of the spotlight. He maintains a fairly low public profile, but reportedly still advises his father on political matters behind the scenes.
Legacy and Significance
Continuing Sanders Political Dynasty
While Levi did not manage to win elected office himself, his congressional run extended his family’s growing political dynasty. Along with Bernie’s rise, Levi’s candidacy reinforced the Sanders name as a force.
It illustrated that the ideals Bernie championed on the national stage could resonate even down the ballot in local races.
The strength of the Sanders brand suggests we may not have seen the last of their politics. Bernie’s stepdaughter Carina Driscoll also ran for mayor of Burlington in 2018.
Impact on Progressive Movement
More broadly, Levi’s embrace of Democratic socialism mirrors Bernie in highlighting the rise of progressive politics in America.
Both have played pivotal roles in thrusting policies like Medicare for All, student debt forgiveness, and a Green New Deal into the mainstream debate.
Though not successful himself, Levi stands as an example of a larger generational trend challenging corporate-friendly centrism with a bold, social welfare-focused vision.
He may no longer be an active candidate, but expect Levi Sanders to continue promoting progressive values like his father as an engaged citizen.
Levi Sanders sought to follow in his father Bernie’s footsteps by running for Congress in 2018. Though he came up short, Levi’s campaign symbolized the strength of the Sanders political brand and its progressive ideals.
While lacking Bernie’s charisma and national profile, Levi gave voice to a similar vision for America: championing Democratic socialism, curtailing income inequality, and rejecting corporate donor influence through small-dollar, people-powered campaigns.
He may have lost his sole electoral foray thus far, but Levi’s run embodied a thirst for change among younger voters. It likely won’t be the last we hear from the Sanders family in championing these causes. Their unique dynasty has indelibly shaped the trajectory of the country’s Left.
Q: Where does Levi Sanders live now?
A: Levi Sanders resides in Claremont, New Hampshire with his wife and son. He moved back to his native New Hampshire in late 2017 after living in Massachusetts.
Q: What was Levi’s profession before running for Congress?
A: Levi worked as a legal services analyst. He earned a law degree from Harvard in 1999 and worked to provide legal aid to low-income clients.
Q: How did Levi do in the 2018 Democratic primary for NH’s 1st District?
A: Levi came in 2nd place out of 11 candidates, garnering 31% of the vote. The winner, Chris Pappas, received 42% and went on to win the general election.
Q: What was unique about Levi’s congressional campaign platform?
A: Like Bernie, Levi campaigned on Democratic socialist policies like Medicare for All and free public college tuition. He focused heavily on reducing income inequality.
Q: Why did Levi wait until 2018 to run for office?
A: Some speculate he wanted to ride the coattails of his father’s popularity after Bernie’s 2016 presidential run. Levi said he was focused on raising his son prior to launching a bid.