Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign has in recent days increased outreach to Black voters in battleground states expected to play a pivotal role in the outcome of November’s general election.
The effort underscores the importance for Biden of energizing minority voters in the handful of swing states that will ultimately decide the race between him and President Trump.
“If we think about the swing states where Black voter turnout dropped off in 2016 — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina —[Biden] needs Black turnout to increase back to or near Obama levels,” Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of left-leaning BlackPAC, told The Hill. “They certainly cannot be where they were in 2016.”
The former vice president visited Kenosha, Wis., on Thursday, where he met with the family of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot by a white police officer in the latest incident to spark racial justice protests around the country. His trip coincided with a new ad launched by his campaign targeting Black voters in four crucial swing states. And it came the same week his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) participated in several events geared toward Black voters, including a virtual meeting with a Black women’s group in Michigan.
The new push comes as the Trump campaign has made its own efforts to appeal to Black voters, who were highlighted throughout last week’s Republican National Convention. A Hill-HarrisX poll released during the convention found an uptick in Black support for Trump.
“They’re certainly making a smart investment,” Adrian Hemond, a Detroit-based Democratic strategist, said of the Biden campaign. “Turnout in majority-Black Detroit was down about 10,000 votes in 2016, basically equivalent to [Trump’s] margin in Michigan that year. So far, [Biden’s outreach] appears to be working.”
Biden, who served as vice president under former President Obama, holds a large lead over Trump with Black voters, though data suggests his advantage isn’t as great as Hillary Clinton’s was in 2016.
A recent Economist/YouGov poll showed Biden with a 64-point lead with Black voters. In 2016, a Cooperative Congressional Election Survey fielded by YouGov found that 88 percent of Black voters backed Clinton.
In 2016, Clinton was hurt by lower Black voter turnout in key states like Michigan, which she lost by just over 10,700 votes. In Detroit — Michigan’s largest city and over 75 percent Black — Clinton picked up 50,000 fewer votes in the city than Obama did in 2012, according to the Detroit Free Press.
A similar scenario played out in Milwaukee, a city where Blacks and Latinos make up over 57 percent of the population. Clinton received 27,000 fewer votes in the city than Obama did in 2012; she lost Wisconsin by just under 23,000 votes. Wisconsin and Michigan were just two of the battleground states Trump won that saw a dip in Black voter turnout in 2016.
Black voters have also taken on a renewed focus for both campaigns since protests against police brutality spread across the country over the summer.
BlackPAC’s Shropshire, whose group works to mobilize Black voters in battleground states, says police accountability and reform, along with systemic racism and discrimination, are among the most critical issues for the voting bloc.
Those issues have been at the forefront of the election since George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer at the end of May.
Biden, who has come under attack from Trump for being beholden to the far left, has been careful to balance his support of the Black Lives Matter movement with criticism of the more violent aspects of the protests. On the campaign trail, he has repeatedly spoken about his police and criminal justice reform policies, which include increasing funding for community policing as well as creating a national commission where Black community leaders as well as law enforcement officials would have a seat at the table.
On Thursday, his campaign launched a new ad targeted specifically at Black voters in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Titled “We’re listening,” the ad highlights Biden and Harris’s stances on police violence.
“Why in this nation do Black Americans wake up knowing they could lose their life in the course of just living their life?” Biden asks in the ad.
“Part of the point of freedom is to be free from brutality, from injustice, from racism and all of its manifestations,” Harris says.
While like Biden she has received criticism from progressive Democrats on her past stances on criminal justice issues, Harris has helped the campaign reach more Black voters, Shropshire argued.
“She speaks to a set of constituencies that obviously Biden needs to be able to win,” she said. “There’s a lot of pride in the Black community around her being selected as a running mate.”
Harris made a virtual appearance at an event at the National Mall last Friday celebrating the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
In her remarks, Harris gave a call to action, telling demonstrators that the civil rights activists of the past would not let the injustices happening against Black Americans in 2020 stop them from striving for justice and equality.
“They would share in our anger and frustration as we continue to see Black men and women slain in our streets and left behind by an economy and justice system that have too often denied Black folks our dignity and rights,” she told the crowd. “But no doubt, they would turn it into fuel. They would be lacing up their shoes, locking arms and continuing right alongside us to continue in this ongoing fight for justice.”
Harris’s words were consistent with her record in the Senate, where she’s been a champion of police and criminal justice reform, despite her checkered past as a prosecutor. A day earlier, she had addressed a virtual room of Black female business leaders in Detroit, where she denounced Blake’s shooting and said there were “two systems of justice in America.”
On Friday, the campaign announced she would travel to Milwaukee on Sept. 7.
Their positions are in stark contrast to Trump’s, something Shropshire says can work to the Biden campaign’s advantage.
“One of the biggest motivators for Black participation this cycle is the fact that people want Trump gone,” she said. “While I don’t think that Black people need to be reminded every second of every day of how terrible Donald Trump has been for the Black community, it is important, I think, to point out the contrast.”
That contrast was highlighted this week when Biden and Trump visited Kenosha separately. While Trump focused on the businesses that had been burned down during protests over Blake’s shooting, Biden held a community dialogue session and talked to Blake’s family in person for over an hour.
“There’s a lot of folks who thought, well the president has made great strides, with his law-and-order strides, that after his convention he really made inroads,” Biden told a socially distanced audience at Grace Lutheran Church. “He hasn’t. Not at all. It should give you a little bit of confidence in the American people. They ain’t buying it.”
“I promise you, win or lose, I’m going to go down fighting for racial equality, equity across the board,” Biden said.
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