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Biden campaign ramps up outreach to Black voters in Wisconsin as some organizers worry about turnout

Biden campaign ramps up outreach to Black voters in Wisconsin as some organizers worry about turnout

Racine, Wisconsin — Sheree Robinson was excited about being invited to ride in President Joe Biden’s motorcade during his trip to Wisconsin Wednesday. The Black mother of two and longtime resident of Racine said education funding in Mr. Biden’s American Rescue Plan enabled her to earn a HSED, a High School Equivalency Diploma. 

“Our conversation was just so natural,” she said of the president. “He definitely has my vote, and I will talk to everyone else and let them know he needs their vote, too.”

Asked if she thought he’d win this November, Robinson replied, “Why wouldn’t he?”

Mr. Biden has a head start on former President Donald Trump in outreach and organizing support with Black communities. As part of a $14 million ad buy announced on Tuesday, the Biden campaign said there would be a seven-figure investment on ad buys in Black, Hispanic and AAPI media. The campaign says it will also have 46 offices across the battleground state, with headquarters in Milwaukee, a city where 39% of the population is Black according to the U.S. Census.

The Black vote is a crucial bloc of Mr. Biden’s support, and national polling has shown a slight but nonetheless significant decline in enthusiasm. A 2020 CBS News national exit poll showed that 87% of Black voters supported Mr. Biden. A Washington Post-Ipsos poll from April showed a decrease in Black voters who said they’re “absolutely certain to vote,” dropping from 74% in June 2020 to 62% in April. 

And the race in the state is tight. A CBS News April poll of Wisconsin found that 50% of likely voters supported Mr. Trump, while 49% support Mr. Biden. Turnout in Milwaukee decreased slightly from 2016 to 2020, according to local news outlet Wisconsin Watch.  

“Even if only 85% of Black voters instead of 90% vote for Biden, additional turnout helps Democrats,” said Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Concern No. 1 is just whether he will get a smaller share of the Black vote than he did last time around.”

After he announced a $3.3 billion investment by Microsoft for a new data center in Racine County, Mr. Biden visited the Dr. John Bryant Community Center on Wednesday to meet with a room full of Black Wisconsin voters and volunteers who were being trained on using a voter outreach app. 

In a memo, the campaign said the event is the first in a series of engagements the campaign has booked in May “that focus on deepening our organizing presence with the core constituencies that will be critical in this election.”

“When I run in [my home state of] Delaware — not a joke — I get 90% of the African-American vote in off years and [presidential election] years, because you’re the most loyal constituency,” he told the crowd.

US President Joe Biden takes a picture with supporters as he meets with campaign volunteers at Dr. John Bryant Community Center in Racine, Wisconsin, on May 8, 2024.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

At that stop, Andrea Dyess talked with Mr. Biden about her battle with cancer 14 years ago, and how the healthcare costs nearly bankrupted her. She praised the Affordable Care Act and also said democracy was a key issue for her vote this November. 

She let out a sigh when asked what she thought about Mr. Biden’s chances this November. 

“Wisconsin is a hard state. But we’re going to make it blue,” she said, adding that her community in Racine has shown “strong” support for Mr. Biden. 

Janet Mitchell, a 77-year-old Black voter in Racine, felt that voters her age would be voting for Mr. Biden but worried the response to Israeli strikes in Gaza could alienate younger voters. 

“I think what’s going on in Israel has taken their eyes off what was supposedly going to be an easy race for Biden,” Mitchell said of younger voters. “It’s going to take all of us to get Biden back in office again.”

While the Republican National Convention is going to be held in Milwaukee this summer, the Trump campaign has not yet said whether it has any field offices in the state, or what its plans are for outreach to Black voters. 

US President Joe Biden hugs a campaign volunteer at Dr. John Bryant Community Center in Racine, Wisconsin, on May 8, 2024.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

As the Biden campaign ramps up its Black voter outreach, 34 miles north, in Franklin Heights, a neighborhood in northwest Milwaukee, members of the nonprofit “Black Leaders Organizing Communities” say they’ve run into apathetic voters who feel the president hasn’t done enough on the economy, education and police reform.

“Biden ain’t doing what we asked him to do… he needs to show us more,” said Antonio Hampton, a 45-year-old member of Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC). “We’re fighting for him to show us more, we want him there. Because we don’t want Trump in.”

“When we’re out here canvassing, talking to people, they say ‘my vote don’t count.’ Because when they do go out and vote… nothing’s changed for them,” said 43 year-old BLOC member Broshea Jackson. “Our job is to educate them and make them understand why their vote is so valuable.”

Tamer Malone, a 26-year-old who worked with BLOC to support Biden during the 2020 election, felt that his term has been “disappointing” on education and on police reform, but said local government officials share some of the blame, too. 

She added that some Black voters in her community have been leaning toward Trump because of the stimulus checks they received at the peak of COVID-19 – though Malone notes that “was going to be distributed anyways, because it was a pandemic.”

“They’re kind of neck and neck right now,” she said of Biden and Trump in the state. “Biden to me is ahead by a hair [in Wisconsin]. And that hair is the Black and Brown community. He just needs to step up. There’s so little time to turn around our community and make us feel like he’s worth our vote and voice.”

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