Civil rights leader Ben Jealous has officially endorsed Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump's Interior pick: Climate change ‘not a hoax’ Sanders to roll out bill letting Medicare negotiate drug prices Sanders warns HHS pick could move healthcare in 'wrong direction' MORE, giving the presidential contender a key African-American voice of support.
Jealous lauded Sanders as the embodiment of Martin Luther King Jr.'s “definition of a true leader.”
The former head of the NAACP added that Sanders was arrested in the 1960s protesting with the Congress on Racial Equality, noting that as his father had also been arrested protesting with the same group, he knows how “few white men actually were that brave at that time.”
CNN had previously reported on the endorsement on Thursday, but Friday's press call marked Jealous’s first public statements on Sanders. The campaign had hoped to roll out Jealous's endorsement at an event in New Hampshire, but had to scuttle the physical event because of bad weather.
The endorsement comes as the Vermont senator is looking to close the significant gap he faces with Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonMichael Moore: Trump will ‘absolutely’ ban Muslims John Lewis betrays his own legacy with Trump comments 'Shattered' to tell story of Clinton's failed presidential bid MORE in South Carolina, a state that has a much more racially diverse electorate than Iowa and New Hampshire.
His team hopes momentum from a narrow loss in Iowa and a potential win in New Hampshire, where he holds a major polling lead, can translate into support in more diverse states where Clinton holds a major lead.
Jealous signaled that he would be a vocal ambassador for Sanders to the black community in South Carolina and across the country, and Sanders said the campaign will not hesitate to lean on him.
“We do have the agenda that will make sense to the African-American community both in terms of economics and criminal justice, and many other issues,” Sanders said.
“Our job is to get that agenda out aggressively and Ben Jealous will be an enormous help.”
He predicted that despite being down by about 30 points in RealClearPolitics's average of South Carolina polling, he'd do much better in the state.
“Things sometimes turn pretty quickly,” Sanders said.
“In terms of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign, he wasn’t doing so well in South Carolina either until he won Iowa.”