Democratic presidential contender U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders may be largely unknown nationally among African Americans, but said he plans to work hard to win their support in his quest for the party’s nomination.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders walks alongside the Rev Jamal Bryant, right, during a walking tour of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore. (Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP)

Three top Sanders advisors—campaign manager Jeff Weaver, senior strategist Tad Devine and the director of African-American outreach, Marcus Fennell—conducted a conference call on Jan. 6 detailing their plans to reach out to Black voters.

Weaver said former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoys a significant advantage among Blacks, citing a poll that has her leading Sanders 73 percent to 12 percent nationally among Blacks, but said Sanders will compete for their vote.

“We have found that when people of all backgrounds get to know Sen. Sanders they tend to support him,” Weaver said. “He understands the challenges that African Americans face whether it is the unfair criminal justice system, the fact that Blacks have less wealth than Whites and have more trouble getting credit and their employment status tends to be more unstable.”

Sanders is a former mayor of Burlington, Vt., a city which comprises a 3.8 percent Black population, and has represented Vermont, both in the House and presently the Senate, a state with a Black population of 1 percent. Despite the low Black population of his state, Sanders has consistently supported civil rights legislation and earned a 100 percent rating from the NAACP in its recent civil rights federal legislative report card.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders walks alongside the Rev Jamal Bryant, right, during a walking tour of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore. (Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP)

Sanders traveled to Baltimore on Dec. 8 to tour the predominantly Black Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, and said he was was moved by the poverty that he saw. Fennell said Sanders’ concern for African Americans is genuine.

“Sen. Sanders thinks that the Black Lives Matter Movement is important,” Fennell said. “He has talked to leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement more than any of the other presidential candidates of either party.”

Over the decades, Black leaders in the Democratic Party have complained that the first states to hold presidential contests—Iowa and New Hampshire—have small African-American populations and candidates don’t talk about Black issues in those places. Iowa will hold its caucus on Feb. 1; New Hampshire will conduct the first primary on Feb. 9.

Weaver said Sanders will be different.

“We held an event recently in Iowa and the senator talked about criminal justice reform and economically empowering low-income communities,” he said. “Sanders highlighted two African Americans who were with him who are dealing with the criminal justice system and are recovering addicts. The presentation was made in front of a predominantly White audience.”

Weaver said he will talk about Black issues and the adverse effect of institutional racism regardless of the composition of the audience. Fennell said that he was working on gaining the support of African Americans in New Hampshire.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign stop, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

“Even though Blacks only consist of 1.1 percent of the population in New Hampshire, we have done the groundwork to get their support,” he said. “Even though their population is small, we will not take them for granted. We want to walk away from New Hampshire winning the Black vote.”

The next state to hold a primary after New Hampshire is South Carolina, on Feb. 27, which is 27.9 percent Black and among Democrats, half of its voters. Devine said that Sanders’ radio ads on Black-oriented stations have aired since last year and the Clinton campaign recently started its Black media outreach effort in the state. Fennell said Black media blitzes are “just the beginning.”

“Throughout the campaign, we will be talking to stakeholders and leaders in the Black communities, visit barber shops and beauty salons focusing on voter mobilization, work with faith-based organizations and we are coordinating a historically Black college and university tour in a few weeks,” he said.