Amid signs of waning enthusiasm, Biden reaches out to Black voters

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At the lowest point of his 2020 fight for the Democratic nomination, President Joe Biden’s campaign put its faith in Black voters to provide the spark that turned things around. As he heads into the summer facing an uphill climb to be re-elected, the president’s campaign is working overtime to make sure that what was once a political lifeline remains in his corner.

The groundwork has been laid for months by campaign leadership, who say outreach to Black voters cannot just be left to the closing months of the campaign.

But on Friday, Biden kicked off a series of public speeches ramping up his own direct pitch to Black voters, one that plays to voters’ short- and long-term memories by emphasizing his long history and relationships with the community and the way he says he’s delivered on the promises he made to them four years ago.

“When we make real the promise of America for all Americans, the nation changes for the better,” Biden said at a public commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in public schools.

Biden’s approach also includes stark warnings about what is at risk if Donald Trump returns to the White House, as he cast his Republican opponent Friday as having revived “insidious” efforts to stand in the way of promoting equality and inclusion.

“My predecessor and his extreme MAGA friends are responsible for taking away other fundamental freedoms, from the freedom to vote to the freedom to choose. But I’ve always believed that the promise of America is big enough for everyone to succeed,” he said.

Biden was also set to meet Friday with leaders of the so-called “Divine Nine,” a group of leading Black sororities and fraternities. On Sunday, he will deliver the commencement address at Morehouse College, a historically Black university, before traveling to Detroit to address the NAACP’s Freedom Fund Dinner.

This weekend’s back-to-back events, in cities where Black turnout will be critical to winning two of the closest battleground states, reflect the campaign’s belief that Black voters can’t be counted on as just a turnout demographic but require sustained engagement — and persuasion.

“You have to make time. You have to show up,” Quentin Fulks, Biden’s principal deputy campaign manager, said in an interview. “It’s just a continuation of doubling down and making sure that we’re doing the work with communities across the country that we need to show up for us, and we’re not taking anything for granted.”

NBC News polling shows the challenge ahead for Biden. Though Biden led Trump 71% to 13% among Black voters in an April survey, the margin is reduced from his 87%-12% advantage in exit polls four years ago.

More concerning for Biden is what appears to be diminished enthusiasm — 59% of Black voters said they had high interest in the 2024 election, compared to 74% who said the same four years ago at a similar point in the race.

Biden’s allies downplayed concern even as they underscore the stakes.

“I don’t accept the premise that there’s any erosion of Black support,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told reporters Thursday after a meeting with Biden, saying public polling has proven to be unreliable.

“What I do believe is we are in a crisis of our democracy. We must decide whether or not we’re going to have a functioning democracy that is representative of all of the citizens or something less than that,” he added. “I hope that the American public recognize the importance of our democracy.”

Biden’s ramped-up outreach comes ahead of a significant milestone — the fourth anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. Coming as the 2020 general election picked up, the public outcry sparked calls, especially from minority communities, for criminal justice and police reforms, many of which Biden embraced.

The White House declined to preview whether and how Biden might mark that anniversary this year. Biden has continued to call on Congress to enact the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

“No president has done more for Black America in modern history than Joe Biden,” Biden campaign spokesman Michael Tyler told reporters this week. “There’s certainly more work to do, but we will take Joe Biden’s record of accomplishment his vision for the future as relates to Black America against Donald Trump’s record and his rhetoric and his plans any day of the week.”

Biden campaign officials point to traditional brick-and-mortar campaign efforts, including campaign offices opened in minority communities, with new technology-driven efforts to reach and regularly communicate with voters directly. The campaign also says Biden has done more interviews with Black media outlets and interviewers than any other medium, including one with Atlanta radio host Big Tigger ahead of the Morehouse commencement.

It also means showing up at major festivals and local events — or even hosting their own, as the campaign has done in Wisconsin with its own bingo or bowling nights, designed to be soft touches rather than hard sells.

Most voters’ interaction with the campaign will come, the campaign expects, from an army of volunteers and organizers who are implementing a new strategy built around leveraging the power of personal relationships and networks. It’s particularly critical, officials say, at a time when many voters, including Black voters, are reluctant or even resistant to engaging about the election.

“We believe that if you can go out and persuade complete strangers, then we believe you can also — and will also be the most effective person to persuade everyone that you know,” Fulks said, noting the importance of this new approach in an increasingly fragmented media environment.

One volunteer organizer in Wisconsin, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that concern as she spoke with a young Black male voter who was echoing what she describes as conservative rhetoric on immigration. Over the course of their one-on-one conversation, “I was able to reach, I think, a place where he was actually thinking through his position.”

“To be able to influence him made me think, ‘OK, that may be one vote down the road,’” she said.

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