‘No respect for our intelligence’: Biden, Trump court disaffected Black voters in Philly

President Joe Biden has made it a mission to win back the voters that helped propel him to the presidency in 2020, but Donald Trump is making his own bid for them.

A close-up of Biden on the left and Trump on right

File photo: This combo image shows President Joe Biden, left, Jan. 5, 2024, and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, right, Jan. 19, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

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Black voters were instrumental in Joe Biden’s primary win in 2020. Yours truly was in South Carolina when Black voters there helped Obama’s vice president secure the nomination.

“We know him,” a voter, Deborah, told me while waiting in a long primary line. “He’s been in politics forever and isn’t a newcomer to the game. He knows the issues and how to address them.”

Black voters in Pennsylvania, stalwart supporters of Democratic nominees for president for decades, were essential when Joe Biden won the state with 92% of their vote in 2020.

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However, a recent New York Times/Sienna poll suggests that Black voters in the state may have turned the corner and, if the election were held today, only half would vote for the current president.

Donald Trump appears to believe he can pick up some disaffected former Biden supporters, holding his first rally in Philly proper on Saturday. WHYY has been reporting on both candidates’ efforts to court Black voters in Pennsylvania and the Philly region.

“I have the best polling numbers that any president has had, they said in 75 years,” Trump told the crowd assembled at Temple University’s Liacouras Center on Saturday. “I think it’s longer with Black and with Hispanic voters. We have the best polling numbers.”

To be clear, 27% of Black voters polled said they will vote for Trump, which is the highest percentage for a Republican since Richard Nixon received 32% of the Black vote in the 1960 election. The bigger question is, “Given the choices, will enough Black voters come out at all in November?”

“We will also work to lift up black, Hispanic and other communities in Philadelphia and all across the United States,” Trump said in his speech.

“That’s a big shift,” U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, who represents Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District, said about the polling. “And with younger African Americans, it’s even better. And the numbers are quite similar with Latino Americans. So look, we’ve got a lot of momentum.”

Meuser argued that Black voters’ frustrations are identical to others.

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“Crime is up, inflation is up, gasoline prices are up — nothing’s being improved,” he told WHYY News. “So people say, ‘Joe Biden’s all talk and no action,’ and they want to see a course change.”

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, however, said he believes his constituents won’t fall for what he calls Trump’s lies and will come out for Biden.

“He is coming to my district to lie — not because he’s trying to court Black voters — but actually because he has no respect for Black voters and for our intelligence,” Kenyatta, who represents North Philly, told WHYY News. He pointed out that Trump had questioned President Obama’s citizenship and was named — along with his father — in a lawsuit against his company for refusing to rent to people of color early in his career.

Joe Biden is also not giving up on Black voters in Philly or elsewhere. His campaign launched Black Voters for Biden-Harris, even appearing in Philly a few weeks ago alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Because Black Americans voted in 2020, Kamala and I are president and vice president of the United States, and with your vote in 2024, we are going to make Donald Trump a loser again,” Biden told the crowd.

The state-specific component, Black Pennsylvanians for Biden, is chaired by Lt. Gov. Austin Davis and House Speaker Joanna McClinton. The goal is to promote what they see as the administration’s success in lifting up the Black community in the state and across the country.

“President Biden has fought for Black Americans every single day of his presidency and really has a remarkable set of accomplishments,” Davis told WHYY a few weeks ago. “Black wealth is up 60% since before the pandemic. Black small businesses are starting at the fastest rate in 30 years. Black unemployment is at a historic low.”

The administration also invited members of the Black press from key swing states to the White House for a Juneteenth event that included a media roundtable. WHYY News was among them.

They heard from senior officials, including Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Adrianne Todman, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs Dietra Trent, and Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Department of Health and Human Services Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. They touted the Biden administration’s efforts to help Black homeowners keep their houses during the pandemic, build more affordable homes, expand Medicaid and Medicare coverage and reduce the income gap and the unemployment gap.

“At a very high level, I think this president is incredibly proud of his economic record and what it has meant for Black Americans in particular,” Daniel Hornung, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told reporters. “We know that more than two-and-a-half million more African Americans have jobs now than when he came into office.”

With 19 electoral votes up for grabs in the winner-take-all contest, the Keystone State may very well decide who will sit in the Oval Office next January. In the last two elections, the victor took Pennsylvania with one of the narrowest margins at around 1%, meaning Black voters in the state may have the ultimate role to play.

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