Perry Bacon Jr. and Alex Seitz-Wald
WASHINGTON (NBC News) – The African-American vote, usually an afterthought until after the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, is now one of the biggest factors in the Democratic primary.
The campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders see the support of blacks as crucial to their paths to the nomination, and the potential entrance of Vice President Biden looms as a huge unknown, as Biden would also aggressively compete in heavily-black areas if he becomes a candidate.
Having already surged in Iowa and New Hampshire because of his support from white liberals, Sanders is trying hard to appeal to African-Americans and rebut the idea that he is a candidate with a narrow, white-only support base. Clinton’s aides, acknowledging the rise of Sanders, are reassuring her nervous supporters by emphasizing the former secretary of state’s huge lead over Sanders among black and Hispanic voters, who are a larger part of the electorate after Iowa and New Hampshire.
And Clinton is taking steps to shore up that support among African-Americans. The former secretary of state did an interview on Friday with American Urban Radio, then will fly on Saturday from New Hampshire to Washington, D.C. to host a reception for those attending the Congressional Black Caucus’s annual conference.
On Monday, Clinton will campaign in Louisiana and Arkansas, which hold primaries in March 2016, after the early votes in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In 2008, about half of the voters in the Louisiana Democratic primary were black.
Asked in an interview Thursday by CNN about Sanders’ rise in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton defended her performance in those states, but added, “we’re moving on to the states that come after.”