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Sanders says Clinton embracing Obama ‘as close as she can’ to win black votes

Bernie Sanders smiles as he heads to the stage for his town hall meeting Tuesday in Charleston, S.C. (Alex Holt for The Washington Post)
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Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders says in a new television interview that Hillary Clinton has been cozying up to President Obama of late as part of a concerted effort to court African American voters.

“You know, Hillary Clinton now is trying to embrace the president as closely as she possibly can,” Sanders says in the interview, scheduled to air Sunday on Black Entertainment Television. “Everything the president does is wonderful. She loves the president, he loves her and all that stuff. And we know what that's about. That's trying to win support from the African American community, where the president is enormously popular.”

The Vermont senator’s comments, released by BET in advance of the broadcast, drew a rebuke from the Clinton campaign.

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"It's disappointing that Senator Sanders thinks the only reason a Democrat would be proud of President Obama's work would be a political ploy to court African American voters,” Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson said Friday, adding that Clinton is “proud of President Obama's work to rescue the economy from the brink of collapse, pass landmark health reform and reform Wall Street.”

The episode comes amid stepped-up outreach from both campaigns toward black voters and an ongoing effort by Clinton, the former secretary of state, to cast herself as the best Democratic candidate to build upon Obama’s legacy.

In a forum broadcast Thursday night by MSNBC and Telemundo, Clinton said that Sanders’s criticism of several Obama policies, including expanded trade, might be because “Senator Sanders wasn’t really a Democrat until he decided to run for president.”

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has been an independent during his more than quarter century in Congress, but he caucuses with the Democrats.

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Following nominating contests in two states that are largely white – Iowa and New Hampshire – the Democratic race now moves to a more diverse playing field.

Nevada hosts its Democratic caucuses on Saturday, and the Democrats will then compete in a primary in South Carolina on Feb. 27. Eight years ago, more than half the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina was African American.

During the BET interview, Sanders says that he has “enormous respect” for Obama.

“He's a friend. We have worked together,” Sanders says. “I think he has done a great job in many respects. But you know what? Like any other human being, he is wrong on certain issues.”

Ferguson said Friday that it appears Sanders “believes the president has showed failed leadership, adding that Clinton and “most Democrats have a different view.”

Sanders spokesman Mike Briggs took issue with that characterization, saying Sanders believes Obama “has done an extraordinary job against unprecedented Republican obstructionism and has accomplished a great deal over the last seven years to improve lives in this country.”

“The senator has been proud to support the president time and time again,” Briggs said. “But for Secretary Clinton to attack him because he does not agree with President Obama on every issue is unfair. The American people want a leader who not only supports President Obama but is capable of constructive disagreement.”