How Bernie Sanders is reaching out to black voters. Is it working?

Despite a strong record on civil rights, Sen. Bernie Sanders has had trouble connecting with many African-American voters. 

Michael Dwyer/AP
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vt. waves during a campaign rally in Springfield, Mass., Oct. 3.

Bernie Sanders wants to show Americans that he can learn from his mistakes.

The popular Democratic presidential contender and Vermont senator was widely panned for reacting angrily when Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted his speech at a Netroots Nation convention in July.

Since then, Senator Sanders, who has acknowledged his weakness with black voters, has vowed to make amends.

In August, he rolled out a comprehensive racial justice plan.

In September, he met with prominent racial justice and Black Lives Matter activists.

Now, in an interview with Ebony Magazine, he says he plans to campaign directly in black communities around the country.

"[W]e plan to take our message to the community and so you will see me getting out soon around the country speaking in Black communities, telling people about my life history and my message like the fact that I have one of the strongest civil rights voting records in the Congress," Sanders told the magazine in an interview published Monday. 

While he provided no further details on how many events he would do or in which black communities they would be held, the news is a step forward for the Sanders campaign, which has, despite its successes in the polls, continued to struggle with black voters.

After Sanders' infamously botched his Netroots Nation appearance, the hashtag #BernieSoBlack caught fire, a knock on the candidate whose home state is 95 percent white and for whom race is perceived to be a blind spot.

Sanders has been working to turn that around.

He's said he would work to reverse sentencing and economic inequalities facing blacks in the criminal justice system. He's proposed a $5 billion jobs program for young people. He's said he would take "a hard look at the war on drugs," including reevaluating mandatory-minimum sentencing that disproportionately affects black men.

Notably, Sanders has also pledged to reform police departments.

"Many white people are not sensitive to the kind of abuse that African Americans, especially younger African Americans, receive at the hands of police officers and police departments," he told Ebony. "It speaks again for the need for criminal justice reform in a very significant way."

"I also know that there is an enormous amount of disgust in the African-American community with regards to certain police departments. We need to demilitarize local police departments so that they do not look like occupying armies. We want police departments that look like the communities they are serving," he added.

There are signs that his outreach could be working.

Back in June, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll showed that only 2 percent of black respondents would be willing to vote for Sanders in the primaries, and 77 percent would support Hillary Clinton. 

By Oct. 1, support for Mrs. Clinton had plummeted – among black respondents she was down 37 points, to 40 percent – and Sanders was up 15 points to 17 percent, according to the poll.

And Sanders' favorability rating among black respondents in the Suffolk University/USA Today poll had risen 42 percentage points since July.

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