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Trump discusses black voter engagement with political advisers

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President Trump hosted back-to-back meetings with top political advisers Thursday on the heels of sobering poll numbers among African American voters. He requested the meeting last weekend as demonstrations broke out across the country following the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died in Minneapolis police custody last week.

Campaign officials including campaign manager Brad Parscale, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien and Trump campaign pollsters pulled up to the White House in multiple black SUVs. According to multiple senior officials from the White House and Trump campaign, the president poured over internal poll numbers, campaign strategy and messaging in a smaller meeting in the Oval Office before making his way to the Cabinet Room, where he led an hour-long conversation with over a dozen members of top campaign and administration brass. The president appeared engaged and in "high spirits," according to multiple officials in attendance.

The commander-in-chief pressed campaign officials about his team of surrogates — he wanted to know, who is carrying his campaign's message?

Mr. Trump engaged two of those surrogates at length – campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson and RNC senior adviser of black media affairs Paris Dennard about his campaign's efforts to attract black voters. Pierson told the president there was a four-figure uptick in engagement with black voters after Joe Biden's controversial "You ain't black" comment in an interview with radio host Charlamagne Tha God on "The Breakfast Club."

This week, the president has pitched himself twice to black voters via Twitter, touting his administration's funding of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and low unemployment numbers among the African-American community prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. "I've done much more for our Black population than Joe Biden has done in 43 years," the president wrote Wednesday.

Since launching his re-election bid, the Trump campaign has touted efforts to attract black voters, hosting weekly "Black Voices for Trump" video streams, planting campaign storefronts in predominantly black neighborhoods, and spending $10 million on a Super Bowl ad featuring Alice Johnson – a black criminal justice advocate and former federal prisoner commuted by the Trump administration. Campaign advisers touted "woke" Trump branded tees modeled by African-American staff members.

Yet the president has a checkered history of stoking racial tensions dating back to his time as a New York City real estate mogul, when he called for New York state to adopt the death penalty following the conviction of the "Central Park Five," five black and Latino men who as teenagers were wrongly charged of the raping of a jogger in Manhattan.

In 2016, black voter turnout declined for the first time in two decades. But President Trump performed better than both John McCain and Mitt Romney—earning 8% of the vote overall and 13% of black male voters. But GOP pollsters tell CBS News much of the president's inroads with the African-American communities in places like North Carolina, Georgia and Texas have reversed following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Washington Post-Ipsos poll last month, found 16% of black people report being laid off or furloughed since the outbreak began in the United States, compared with 11% of white people. A recent study found counties with "above average" black populations account for over half of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and nearly 60% of deaths.

One of those counties — Mecklenberg County in North Carolina — experienced a triple-digit single-day increases in coronavirus cases every day in the last week. Home to Charlotte, North Carolina, and the locale initially chosen for the 2020 Republican National Convention, the president announced Tuesday he planned to move his party's celebration to a different city after Governor Roy Cooper demanded Republican officials scale back the event amid the pandemic recovery.

Republican officials tell CBS News while the GOP's official business will remain in North Carolina, GOP leaders will move the president's acceptance speech to a different city, and are seriously considering Phoenix and Orlando, among other top contenders. That event will look and feel like a "traditional nominating convention." One campaign official tells CBS News the president has repeatedly expressed his desire for a "normal convention."

Trump allies tell CBS News the president has scrutinized recent poll numbers in political battlegrounds, with concerns incentivizing a blowout rally to fire up the president's strong Republican base. According to a senior campaign official, as the president left today's meetings, he turned back to deliver a final message, five months out from Election Day: "We're going to win."

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