In Philly, Democrats appear hopeful despite ‘subdued’ performance from Biden

Cheers and laughs were observed at a watch party in Roxborough. At a party on City Avenue hosted by the Philadelphia Black Caucus, applause and boos were heard.

The Philadelphia Black Caucus hosted a presidential debate watch party at Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue on June 27, 2024 (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Black Caucus hosted a presidential debate watch party at Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue on June 27, 2024 (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

What questions do you have about the 2024 elections? What major issues do you want candidates to address? Let us know.

Roughly 100 people gathered at a presidential debate watch party in Roxborough on Thursday to support the Biden-Harris campaign.

The crowd was vocal, often cheering for Biden, and laughing at Trump, including when the former president said he left the economy in better shape than he found it when he first took office in 2016.

Philadelphia Councilmembers Anthony Phillips, Quetcy Lozada and Rue Landau; state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta; state Sen. Sharif Street; and Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware were among the audience.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The event was historic, the first between a sitting president and a former president. They are the oldest candidates in a general election. One of them is a convicted felon, another first.

Most there thought Biden had done a good job.

“He’s got some strong points,” said Biden campaign volunteer and North Philly resident David Evans.

Evans, who runs a nonprofit called Block by Block Philly, says reproductive health care and voting rights are his top issues this election.

He said Biden, 81, could have gone after Trump, 78, stronger on some points.

“He’s struggling a little bit with his rebuttals, but overall I think he’s got some really key points,” he said.

Philadelphia resident Sylvia Eve agreed.

“He seems a bit subdued but I think he is effectively getting across his message,” she said.

Eve added that she thought Biden’s demeanor showed restraint.

“He kept his calm even though it was apparent that Trump was intentionally trying to gaslight him and make him upset and discredit his efforts,” she said. “But Joe kept his cool, and Trump was unsuccessful at, I guess, painting him as a villain.”

‘Without Pennsylvania, there’s no path’

Coons, one of Biden’s most vocal supporters and co-chair of his re-election campaign, emphasized the outsized role Pennsylvania will play in the election.

“No state is more important in 2024 than Pennsylvania,” he told WHYY News. “Without Pennsylvania, there’s no path.”

When asked about polling, Coons said a major challenge has been cohesive messaging.

“I think the problem has been that he’s gotten so many good things done,” Coons said. “If he’d only accomplished three things, every Democrat would be talking about those three things. Instead, it’s two dozen.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Trump is ahead two percentage points, 47% to 45%, within the poll’s margin of error, making it an effective tie, according to the latest Emerson poll.

‘People are going to vote for Biden or stay home’

The Rhodes Foundation, State Sen. Sharif Street and members of the Philadelphia Black Caucus hosted a watch party at the Hilton Hotel on City Avenue to give the Black community an opportunity to gather and discuss key issues.

Cheers, applause and boos were heard throughout the room as Biden and Trump took on issues such as immigration and health care.

Kim May, a doctor who works at a West Philly medical office, said she felt Biden had a slow start.

“He had a rocky start. Maybe he was nervous. We all know he has a history of stuttering,” she said. “But as the debate went on, he was able to state everything and get all of his positions across.”

Dr. Kim May discusses health care with a fellow doctor
Dr. Kim May discusses health care with a fellow doctor at the presidential debate watch party at Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue June 27, 2024 (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

May said Biden’s policy on health care is most important to the Black community.

“Absolutely he has made an impact,” she said. “I care for seniors in the community, so the $35 cap on insulin will definitely make a difference … and access to health care is an important part of care for minorities in the community, so continuation of the [Affordable Care Act] is important for us and we know Trump wanted to end it.”

Biden and Trump have been courting Black voters.

Trump held events across the Keystone State, selling $399 Trump gold “Never Surrender” sneakers at Sneaker Con in Philadelphia to attract young and Black voters. Biden’s campaign launched the “Black Voters for Biden-Harris” initiative in Philly at Girard College last month.

Street said polls showing young Black voters leaning toward Trump are inaccurate.

“I don’t really believe that Black people are skewing towards Trump,” Street said. “I do think there are issues around polling. In Pennsylvania, we have won every statewide election the last two years and trailed in polls, so I don’t think they know how to poll us. I think that people are going to vote for Biden or stay home.”

Sharif Street
Sen. Sharif Street attends the Philadelphia Black Caucus presidential watch party at Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue June 27, 2024. (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

Lisa Rhodes, chair emeritus of the Black Caucus, said she was enthusiastic about the response from the crowd as the debate progressed.

“I think the room was energetic,” she said. “When I took the poll I was surprised it was a draw at first, but in the end they felt President Biden pulled it off. They felt the president answered the questions, but the former president … answering questions was more energetic. In the end, they felt Biden was factual.”

Lisa Rhodes
Lisa Rhodes, chair of the Philadelphia Black Caucus–hosted presidential debate watch party (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

The July debate, broadcast by CNN, is the earliest televised debate in history. The candidates agreed to a set of rules. Microphones were muted throughout except for the candidate whose turn it was to speak. No props or pre-written notes were allowed. Candidates were given a pen, a notebook and a water bottle. The event did not feature a studio audience.

About six in 10 U.S. adults said they were “extremely” or “very” likely to watch the debate live, in clips or read about the performance of the candidates in the news or social media, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal