When a little-known senator from Vermont entered the Democratic presidential race to challenge Hillary Clinton, we can assume she set down her chalice on the wrought iron table at whatever chateau the political elitist delights in and turned up her nose saying, “Sanders mustn’t think he stands a chance against the likes of me.”

After all, the presidency was her birthright.

Or at least that’s the perception of the millions of supporters who flocked to Bernie Sanders’ camp throughout the United States and abroad as he challenged the very political machine that had favored billionaires, bankers and corporate interests for far too long.

She was that machine, and he was perhaps the biggest surprise and most beloved character of the 2016 elections.

Here are our five favorite moments of Sanders’ remarkable 2016 run that took the political world (and social media) by storm, albeit only for a little while:

The ‘political revolution’ awakens

It wasn’t clear Bernie was more than a meme on the internet until his rallies began drawing 10,000 people regularly late in summer 2015.

“All across this country, people are sick and tired of establishment politics, establishment economics, and they want real change,” he said. It was a statement that resonated with massive numbers of angry voters ready to upend the system.

And that became evident to the television cameras and news stations quickly, as the tone of their election coverage changed over the course of three months leading up to the first Democratic debate. Donald Trump may have stolen the show, but he had a self-styled socialist who stood as his complete opposite ready to take the youth movement in a new direction.

“This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders, it is not about Hillary Clinton, it is not about anyone else, it is about you,” Sanders said at the time.

A victory in New Hampshire


Twitter/Bernie Sanders

Just as all the competition aside from Hillary began to drop from the Democratic primaries, Bernie delivered a blow to his opponent’s “inevitable” nomination with a big victory in the state of New Hampshire after a narrow loss in Iowa. While Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook scrambled to assure big donors that her delegate lead would soon be “insurmountable,” the Sanders campaign knew it had something on its side – momentum.

Explaining to his New Hampshire supporters that the message would be heard from coast to coast, and “from Wall Street to Washington,” Bernie said that it’s “too late for the same-old, same-old establishment politics and establishment economics. The people want real change.”

Bye bye, Birdie Sanders

It was an indelible moment during a campaign full of them, when in Portland, Oregon, a crowd of 20,000 cheered on a tiny bird as it fluttered around the rally stage, amusing a surprised Mr. Sanders. Then, it landed fearlessly on the podium beside the independent senator to an eruption of applause.

Memes, swag and odes to peace on Earth followed. Birdie, you were the real deal.

The most inspiring political ad since ‘Morning in America’

Upon its release, the Sanders campaign’s undeniably inspiring “America” was immediately compared to Reagan’s indelible ad from the 1980s. With Simon and Garfunkel’s song of the same name playing over vignettes of everyday people in neighborhood life across the country, the ad’s tone captured the spirit of the American Dream in a year when far too many speeches and ads attempted to pin down opponents with nasty, mean little words intended to incite anger and hatred in the populace.

A Michigan miracle

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Bernie Sanders speaks with supporters at Michigan rally following primary victory. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Pollsters had a forgettable year, by any measure. At once snarky and self-assured, the math wizards and statisticians responsible for prophetic predictions in elections past seemed to wield virtually no power in Decision 2016, and that fact may have been no more apparent than in March’s Michigan primaries.

Models showed Hillary up by double-digits in the days leading up to the election, but Bernie outperformed them all and discovered his opponent’s Achilles heel in the contest after blue-collar Rust Belt voters flocked to his camp and denounced the former first lady, who was in the White House when unpopular trade deals like NAFTA were passed into law.

Attempting to explain his puzzlement, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight said, “this result will send a shock wave through the press. Heck, I’m a member of the press, and you might be able to tell how surprised I am.”