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Black voters and organizers in battleground states say they're anxious about enthusiasm for Biden

Biden campaigning in Michigan, Wisconsin
Biden campaigning in Michigan, Wisconsin in hopes of energizing voters in swing states 03:15

Earlier this week, Rev. Greg Lewis, an assistant pastor at St. Gabriel's Church of God In Christ in Milwaukee, physically carried one of his parishioners to the polls inside the city's Midtown early voting center to cast a ballot in Wisconsin's upcoming Democratic primary. Supported by crutches and the pastor himself, the disabled man was one of many residents Lewis has helped vote this cycle.

Through his nonprofit, Souls to the Polls, Lewis has been coordinating multi-church early voting campaign drives after services on Sundays, encouraging more Black residents to vote.

"They are the difference makers," Lewis said on Monday.

President Biden's winning coalition in 2020 was led by Black voters, particularly in major cities in battleground states. But this time around, there are signs that his support among this bloc of voters has softened. A CBS News poll in late February showed 76% of likely Black voters said they backed his reelection bid, down from 87% who voted for him in 2020.

The more than a dozen Black voters and organizers interviewed by CBS News in battleground states have shared a sense of disappointment about the impending rematch of the 2020 presidential election, with worries it will translate to voters staying home in November. 

They credit Mr. Biden's policies and legislative record, but say there have been difficulties in effectively communicating his successes to voters.

And while the president has just wrapped a post-State of the Union tour of every battleground state, they want him to appear in bigger, more accessible venues. They also want him to meet more frequently with Black groups and organizations in Black communities. 

"He's getting there. He just needs to be in Georgia more and let the people see him get out," said Tina Metcalf, a former educator who saw Mr. Biden speak in Atlanta recently. 

Concerns about voter apathy, messaging and representation

A voter casts a ballot at an early voting center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Sunday, March 24, 2024.
A voter casts a ballot at an early voting center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Sunday, March 24, 2024. CBS News

In January, Karen Weaver, the former mayor of Flint, Michigan, attended a virtual meeting between Black women leaders and Biden campaign leadership. The women shared concerns about the Biden campaign's representation of Black women in leadership and surrogate roles, and the effectiveness of communicating the administration's record. 

Weaver and Holli Holliday, who is the president of the group Sisters Lead Sisters Vote and organized the meeting, said those concerns remain.

"People are saying, 'OK, well, now, what have they done again?' That shouldn't be a question that people are asking. That message ought to be loud and clear," Weaver said. 

"We need to have messengers and people affiliated with the campaign that can speak to these different audiences. And it's going to be more than the president and vice president," Holliday said. "Mis[information] and disinformation has continually made the electorate less trustful of elected officials."

In response to calls for more Black women in campaign leadership, a Biden spokesperson said they have hired Black women "to lead vital programs at both the national and state level - this includes leading our national voter protection and access efforts, as well as serving as leaders in key states."

In a focus group of voters organized by BlackPAC, a left-leaning political action committee dedicated to mobilizing Black voters, initial sentiments toward Mr. Biden were largely negative. After learning about policy changes spearheaded by the Biden administration, specifically student loan forgiveness and a cap on insulin prices, many shifted their perspective.

"We're hearing while [Black voters] are excited about some of the policy initiatives, they haven't felt them. That's one of the challenges of making big, long-term policy, is it doesn't have that immediate effect," said Quentin James, the founder of the Collective PAC, the largest political action committee supporting Black candidates.

Battleground state party officials and organizers say highlighting the binary choice between Mr. Biden and former President Donald Trump, in addition to the White House's record, is key to energizing voters. 

"It's still relatively early in the campaign," Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia said Sunday on "Face the Nation." "I think that at the end of day Black voters, Georgia voters, will see that this is a binary choice. And the more Donald Trump talks, the better our fortunes will be."

The Biden campaign's outreach 

Following his State of the Union speech, Mr. Biden's campaign ramped up its battleground state travel, infrastructure and outreach to key voting blocs. As part of a $30 million ad buy in March, the campaign launched multiple ads targeting Black voters in the battleground states. 

"As bad as Trump was, his economy was worse. And Black America felt it the most," Mr. Biden says to the camera in one ad.

In August 2023, the Biden campaign announced a $25 million advertising campaign that included targeting voters through Black-owned media, such as "The Shade Room" media company.

"It's not one of those campaigns which we feel is parachuting in at the last minute. They are coming here repeatedly and they are focused on talking to Black voters," said Angela Lang, the founder of Black Leaders Organizing Communities in Milwaukee.

Deputy Biden campaign manager Quentin Fulks told CBS News that the campaign has made "historic investments to engage Black voters directly and reach folks where they are, earn every vote, and ensure voters are aware of how President Biden and Vice President Harris have delivered for them."

He said the campaign saw Black communities turn out in high numbers during the primaries "because they understand the stakes of this election."

Republicans see an opening

While Mr. Biden still captures the majority of Black voters in polling, Trump has slightly increased his support with the voting bloc.

Republicans have looked to capitalize on that opening by casting a wide net of messaging. In March, Trump's super PAC MAGA Inc. launched radio ads targeted toward Black voters in Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania. The ads were focused on transgender policies and immigration. In speeches, Trump often argues the economy was better and touts Black unemployment numbers during his term.

Mikail Stewart-Saadiq, a director for the Michigan Muslim Community Council in Detroit, said he's seen "a lot" of young Black men "drinking the MAGA juice."

"They don't see themselves as being full-fledged, card-carrying members of American society. Things push us to the fringes. The Republican Party, some of the MAGA rhetoric, is capitalizing on that sentiment," said Stewart-Saadiq, who organized in 2020 for Biden's campaign.   

Mr. Biden, his campaign and White House officials have denounced as "racist" some of Trump's recent remarks, such as when he suggested in a February speech that Black voters can relate to his mugshot. 

Organizers said they believe the choice between the two candidates will become clearer as the campaign ramps up.

"The Trump situation is just headed downhill fast," said Holliday, of Sisters Lead Sisters Vote. "This is a case of, we're doing OK, and they're doing so damn awful."

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