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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont will challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic party’s nomination for president in 2016, he announced today.

Bernie Sanders Photo

The 73-year-old with a shock of white hair is a most unlikely contender for the Democratic nomination, and not just because he is not a Democrat.

The independent U.S. Senator will have to join the party in order to run; he has not done so prior to now, though he typically votes with Democrats.

A self-declared "democratic socialist," he rose from mayor of Burlington, Vt., to the U.S. House, then the Senate in 2006, getting reelected in 2012.

While admittedly more liberal than the Democratic party at large, he is joining it in order to run for president, rather than run as a third-party independent.

Acknowledging the role of Ralph Nader, who many believe cost Al Gore the White House in 2000, he says he has no intention of playing spoiler.

"After a year of travel, discussion and dialogue, I have decided to be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president," he emailed supporters.

Sanders highlighted rising economic inequality, climate change and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision as key issues spurring him to run.

In his campaign announcement, he railed against the political machine, billionaire big-money donors and "soap opera aspects of modern campaigns."

"I think the American people are tired of that," Sanders said.

He said he is running to thwart unfair trade deals and overhaul business tax rules so corporations operating in the U.S. can’t shelter money overseas.

"Their responsibilities are not to shift jobs to China, their responsibility is not to avoid paying federal taxes," he said, insisting that he is in to win.

"People should not underestimate me," Sanders told the AP. "I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeating both Democrats and Republicans."

Noting that he is not unfamiliar with "taking on big-money candidates," he said his message resonates in Vermont and "can resonate all over this country."

Sanders and his advisers hope a grass roots, dark horse candidacy can help him compete against Hillary Clinton, the dominant Democratic frontrunner.

Many in the progressive left wing of the party think she’s too moderate and want someone to challenge her. If nothing else, Bernie has given them that.

Sanders has ong been an outspoken critic of Wall Street and the outsized influence of money in politics and is a supporter of universal health care.

He regularly talks about the need to rebuild the middle class and raise taxes on America’s highest earners, and is unapologetic about these views.

Sanders is often gruff and blunt, dispensing with social niceties and getting right to the point … you’ll enjoy this refreshing style if nothing else.