The day after he’s expected to wallop Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire’s primary, Bernie Sanders will get to work on tearing down her so-called South Carolina firewall.
His first stop on that mission? Breakfast in Harlem with Rev. Al Sharpton.
In recent weeks, the Sanders campaign has been touting endorsements from key African-American leaders—including Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner, ex-NAACP president Ben Jealous and rapper Killer Mike, who has become one of his strongest surrogates with young black voters. Meanwhile, Clinton has rolled out an impressive list of prominent black pastors—all of whom are veterans of the Obama coalition and have a demonstrated record of turning out votes come Election Day.
Clinton has a comfortable lead among black voters in South Carolina, where, according to recent polls, she commands four out of every five votes. (Notably, she will pre-tape an interview with Sharpton tomorrow that will air on MSNBC this weekend.)
However, by meeting with Sharpton at Sylvia’s Restaurant—the very place then-Sen. Barack Obama sat down with the preacher in 2008—Sanders is sending a message to Clinton forces: Don’t sleep.
The controversial MSNBC anchor and activist, who also hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show, is not surprised that Sanders and Clinton came knocking.
“I think that they have dealt with the reality that if people are going to address issues they will have to address them with the people involved in the issues,” Sharpton told The Daily Beast. “You cannot appoint our leadership for us.”
“I may not be the establishment’s choice, but I was the choice for those families,” he said referring to high-profile cases involving police violence, including the deaths of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. “I led those fights at the request of those families.”
In July 2015, Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley were interrupted by BlackLivesMatter activists at they attempted to address a conference in Arizona. Sanders stormed off the stage and was later ridiculed on social media under the hashtag #BernieSoBlack. In the months since, the campaign has invested heavily in reopening a conversation with young activists and now believes Clinton is as vulnerable.
An endorsement from Sharpton is not imminent. But he told The Daily Beast that candidates are mistaken if they believe they can sew up the nomination without reaching out to black voters of every age. That means connecting with young social justice activists across the country as well as civil rights leaders, he said.
“We are not monolithic,” Sharpton added. “They have to talk to us trans-generationally.”
It was Sharpton who embraced President Barack Obama while establishment players sided with Clinton back in 2008. After the black vote began breaking for Obama, many of those same leaders found themselves on the outside looking in.
“I am black radio five days a week,” Sharpton said. “I am not guessing about what’s on the ground. I am on the ground.”