In this Sept. 12, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama, accompanied by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Rather than keeping him at arm’s length, Hillary Rodham Clinton is embracing President Barack Obama _ sometimes even literally. As she prepares for another presidential campaign, Clinton has aligned herself with Obama far more than she has disagreed with him. She had been expected to separate herself from the president to avoid appearing as though she’d simply carry out his third term. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
FILE - In this June 24, 2015 file photo Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama speak in the East Room of the White House in Washington. President Barack Obama is the man in the middle as his vice president weighs challenging his former secretary of state for the 2016 Democratic nomination. While Obama would officially stay neutral in a Biden-Clinton face-off, the contest would essentially be a fight over which of his closest advisers is the rightful heir to his legacy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Perry Bacon Jr. and Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON (NBC News) – The African-American vote, usually an afterthought until after the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, is now one of the biggest factors in the Democratic primary.

The campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders see the support of blacks as crucial to their paths to the nomination, and the potential entrance of Vice President Biden looms as a huge unknown, as Biden would also aggressively compete in heavily-black areas if he becomes a candidate.

Having already surged in Iowa and New Hampshire because of his support from white liberals, Sanders is trying hard to appeal to African-Americans and rebut the idea that he is a candidate with a narrow, white-only support base. Clinton’s aides, acknowledging the rise of Sanders, are reassuring her nervous supporters by emphasizing the former secretary of state’s huge lead over Sanders among black and Hispanic voters, who are a larger part of the electorate after Iowa and New Hampshire.

And Clinton is taking steps to shore up that support among African-Americans. The former secretary of state did an interview on Friday with American Urban Radio, then will fly on Saturday from New Hampshire to Washington, D.C. to host a reception for those attending the Congressional Black Caucus’s annual conference.

On Monday, Clinton will campaign in Louisiana and Arkansas, which hold primaries in March 2016, after the early votes in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In 2008, about half of the voters in the Louisiana Democratic primary were black.

Asked in an interview Thursday by CNN about Sanders’ rise in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton defended her performance in those states, but added, “we’re moving on to the states that come after.”



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