LAS VEGAS -- The paths of the two Democratic candidates for the White House converged at the same historic Baptist church here on Sunday, as both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sought to leverage African American support ahead of Saturday’s high-stakes caucuses here.
Clinton and her motorcade already had arrived the Victory Missionary Baptist Church, located in an economically struggling neighborhood west of the Vegas Strip, when Sanders’s entourage pulled in with a police escort.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, was seated in the first row, on the left side. Sanders, a senator from Vermont, took a seat in the first row, on the right side. The candidates did not shake hands or talk.
After two nominating contests dominated by white voters, Nevada will offer the first real test of Clinton and Sanders’s ability to appeal to minorities. In Nevada, 30 percent of the Democratic electorate in 2008 was black or Hispanic.
The Rev. Robert E. Fowler Sr. announced that the church had "two special guests,” adding: “We thank God our church in this political system is singled out today to have both presidential candidates.”
“Senator Sanders, your camp contacted us first so you have the opportunity to go first,” Fowler said.
Sanders began by acknowledging his wife, Jane, and then talked about competing philosophies.
“Some of us believe that what God teaches us and what this world is about is that we do not turn our backs on our brothers and our sisters, that essentially we are in this together.” Sanders said. “I have four beautiful kids and seven grandchildren. I want you to worry about my kids and I have got to worry about your children and your grandchildren. That’s what this church is about and that’s what our existence is about.”
Sanders also acknowledged how hard-hit Nevada had been during the recession.
“No state in America knows more about the impact of the greed and illegal behavior of Wall Street than the state of Nevada,” he said. “This state was decimated.”
The senator then pivoted to talk about criminal justice reform, including the need to provide education and job training to those coming out of prison.
Clinton nodded a few times when Sanders talked about criminal justice reform and investing in education. She watched him speak from a large screen above and did not look at him directly.
The pastor then let Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduce Clinton. The civil rights icon made headlines last week when he seemed to question Sanders’s commitment to the movement -- walking those comments back the following day.
On Sunday, Lewis talked only about Clinton.
“If there is one person ready to be president Day One, this woman,” he said. “She’s been a senator, secretary of state. Look, she is prepared, she is ready, Hillary Clinton.”
"Let us rejoice!" Clinton said cheerfully, as she started by praising the church and the children who sang earlier in the service.
She noted that she had been there before.
"I am honored to be here again, I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of this church before and I’m deeply grateful to be here with my friend, and one of the people I most admire,” Clinton said of Lewis.
Clinton also spoke to the African American congregation about her work with President Obama.
“It will not surprise you that I was deeply honored when he asked me to be secretary of state,” she said. “We were partners, we became friends.”
Clinton also repeated a line she has been using a lot lately in an attempt to differentiate herself from Sanders, whose campaign has focused heavily on economic issues and the influence of big money on politics.
“I am not a single-issue candidate, and this is not a single-issue country,” she said, eliciting cheers. “Because if we were to achieve everything about banks and money in politics, would that end racism? Would that make it automatically going to happen that people would be able to get the jobs they deserve, the housing they need, the education their children need to have? … And it will be my mission working with all of you to make sure that’s exactly what we do.”
Fowler indicated that Clinton’s allotted five minutes were up with an “Amen.” Clinton finished with a “Good bless you.”