Can a gruff 73-year-old socialist originally from Brooklyn beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination?

Absolutely not.

Just don't tell that to Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator (I-Vermont) who on Thursday said he will seek the Democratic nomination -- and by Friday had raised more money in 24 hours than any of the declared GOP candidates garnered in that period.

"I don't believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where billionaires own the political process," Sanders said.

The message struck a chord. By Friday, he had raised $1.5 million from 35,000 working stiffs, averaging $43.54 per donation.

Raised in a working-class Brooklyn family on Kings Highway and 26th Street by a paint salesman whose family died in the Holocaust, Sanders is attuned to the struggles of the American masses.

Bernie, who never lost his Brooklyn accent, moved to Vermont in the great hippie migration nearly half a century ago. Working as a freelance writer, filmmaker and carpenter, Sanders took to rural life and made Vermont his permanent home, dabbled in politics and became a beloved figure in the land of cows, maple syrup and Ben & Jerry's, eventually landing in the U.S. Senate.

Sanders absolutely hates the gotcha politics and shallow media circus our elections have become.

"If I walked up on stage and fell down, that would be the top story," Sanders once told The New York Times. You wouldn't hear a word about the issues, he lamented, "such as the growing gap between rich and poor."

Sanders is an adherent of the democratic socialism practiced in Sweden and other Scandinavian nations, noting they have higher standards of living and better health care than we do.

He believes giving corporations and billionaires the right to donate unlimited cash while making the masses virtually voiceless is the true danger to our freedom.

But a democratic socialist as U.S. president? Not in our lifetimes.

Strong early support for Bernie's campaign shows how his message resonates. If his only contribution to the race is raising awareness of how big money perverts our democracy, then more power to him.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.