Sanders makes pitch to Black Caucus
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced MORE (I-Vt.) met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) on Thursday as he seeks to court African-American support for his insurgent presidential campaign.

During the meeting, Sanders discussed his views on criminal justice reform, income inequality and "the systemic problems facing minority communities," said one senior aide to a CBC member.


"We know Sanders gets it," the aide said. "We know he understands the pressing issues facing African-Americans nationwide, but we needed to hear it from him directly."

The aide added that "many CBC members appreciated this opportunity for Sanders to explain his vision for the country."

"If he's serious about his candidacy, I expect that we'll have many more productive meetings like this in the future."

Aides for Sanders and CBC did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

At the same time, new polls show Sanders ahead of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states in the presidential nominating process.

But Sanders could face a tougher slog in other states, particularly in Southern states such as South Carolina that have large numbers of black voters.

Clinton has deep ties to the African-American community, dating back to her husband's time in the White House. During the 2008 Democratic primaries, she was able to split the CBC vote in the race against President Obama and John Edwards.

More than a dozen members of the CBC have already endorsed Clinton for president in 2016, according to The Hill’s endorsement list.

"Hillary and her husband [former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Evergreen State and the soul of the Democratic Party Biden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility Democrats not keen to reignite Jerusalem embassy fight MORE] have a long history with CBC," said Democratic strategist Richard Fowler. "But yet even she must work to convince African-American voters that she is the right candidate for them — and that will require work."

Sanders will need to expand his coalition of support beyond the white, liberal base of the Democratic Party if he hopes to win the nomination. 

A Quinnipiac poll released earlier Thursday had him edging past Clinton among Iowa Democrats, 41 percent to 40 percent.

Fowler said that it is "essential for any candidate running for the Democratic nomination to understand the concerns" of African-Americans because they are a "key constituency to the left."

"The CBC and other members work tirelessly to make sure that Washington works for black and underserved communities," Fowler said.