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The Democratic Race: how we got here

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    DECISION 2018: Complete election coverage and results for all local, state and national races, as well as up-to-date information about the candidates and political news.

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    DECISION 2018: Complete election coverage and results for all local, state and national races, as well as up-to-date information about the candidates and political news.

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By: Leigh Ann Caldwell

(NBC) - The race between Democratic presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is much closer than most would have expected when campaigning began nearly a year ago. Other candidates have announced and dropped out, some potential heavy hitters within the party flirted with the idea of running and backed out, and the candidates have traveled many miles while traversing plenty of potholes along the way.

As Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley prepare for Sunday night's NBC News-YouTube debate, here's a look back at how the Democratic race for president arrived at this juncture:

Hillary Clinton's Emails

Before Clinton - or any Democratic candidate - officially announced their candidacy for the nomination, controversy of Clinton's use of a private server when she was secretary of state dominated the discussion for the Democratic primary. It's an issue that hasn't gone away either as the State Department has released several thousand each month of the more than 50,0000 emails to be released. The FBI is also investigating and the Department of Justice has been asked to determine if the law was broken.

Elizabeth Warren. Will She or Won't She?

While it became increasingly evident that Clinton was going to mount a run, the progressive wing of the Democratic party actively urged Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to mount a run. Activists hoped Warren would push Democratic proposals to the left, especially on economic issues of Wall Street regulation, entitlements and affordable higher education.

Clinton's Soft Open

Clinton officially entered the race on April 12th with a two-minute long video and a tweet. She doesn't appear in the video until the very end, when she says, "Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top," she said in a video posted on "Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion."

Clinton's 'Scooby Van' And a Stop at Chipotle

The day after her video posted, Clinton hit the campaign trail. It was meant to be a laid back, easy-going Clinton embarking on a leisurely drive to Iowa, prompting her campaign to dub the vehicle she drove in "the Scooby Van" after the stoner-inflicted cartoon Scooby Doo. The trip quickly turned into a media frenzy with the press receiving little to no access to the Clinton leading to an over-reported stop to Chipotle and a media rampage chasing the Scooby Van through a parking lot.

Bernie Who?

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a little-known, long-time independent member of Congress who calls himself a socialist, decides to jump in the race. He announced in an interview with the Associated Press and simultaneously held a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol. He was polling below five percent while Clinton was polling above 60 percent at the time.

"People should not underestimate me," Sanders said at the time to the AP. "I've run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country."

Martin O'Malley Is In, Too

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley announced his bid in Baltimore. He launched his campaign positioning himself to the left of Clinton. His polling numbers neared 1 percent and even before he jumped in, his record as mayor of Baltimore came under the microscope after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

Sanders' is Shocked

Less than a month after his announcement, Sanders held a rally in Minneapolis. His senior adviser Tad Devine tells the story like this: When we drove up to the rally site, there were crowds of people and Sanders asked what is going on. Devine told him they are here to see him. Sanders couldn't believe it. He said he was "shocked."

More than 3,000 people showed up to the rally, far surpassing anyone's expectations, but it was a glimpse into the amount of support Sanders was amassing. He was also fulfilling the liberals' need for a more progressive candidate than Clinton.

To read more from NBC News, click here.

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