Biden seeks to bolster support from Black voters as he looks to general election

President Joe Biden brought his presidential bully pulpit to the pulpit of St. John Baptist Church on Sunday, quoting scripture and heralding the promise of the Black American church as he tries to convince a core constituency that he is worthy of their support this November.

Black churches, Biden said, “give us a mountaintop. You give us a promised land. You give us a dream and a faith that we shall overcome, we can overcome. And you push us toward a more perfect union, you really do. To bend the arc of a moral universe toward justice together. And what a gift to the nation and the world you’ve been.”

Biden’s weekend in the Palmetto State, surrounded by some of his longest-standing and most loyal supporters, comes as the president has been frustrated by stubbornly low polling, interrupted on the campaign trail by members of his own party unhappy with his handling of the Israel-Gaza conflict, and dogged by his predecessor’s grip over congressional negotiations.

South Carolina won’t be a competitive state for Democrats in November, but next Saturday’s primary, the first official Democratic contest, will mark a key test of Biden’s potency with the Black voters who turned the tide of his 2020 primary bid and helped propel him to victory nationwide that November.

But there are signs that support is slipping: Black pastors have been increasingly calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, according to new reporting in The New York Times, echoing some of the messages Biden is hearing from protesters at campaign events. Biden advisers have met with concerned Black pastors about a ceasefire in recent weeks, a source familiar said. And polling of key battleground states has indicated weakening support for the president among Black voters, particularly Black men.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ multiple trips to South Carolina in recent weeks underscore the campaign’s recognition that it cannot afford to lose support from Black voters.

Biden spent the past two days in Columbia making an appeal to the state’s diverse electorate, visiting churches and a barber shop, while also unveiling a sharpened general election argument against his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, whom he repeatedly cast as a “loser.”

Speaking at a party dinner celebrating the state’s first-in-the-nation primary Saturday night, the president opened numerous lines of attack against Trump on the economy, the pandemic, and respect for US veterans, seeking to contrast the chaos of the previous administration with his own accomplishments.

South Carolina voters, Biden said, are “the reason I am president. You are the reason Kamala Harris is the historic vice president. And you are the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president — and you’re the reason Donald Trump is a loser. And you’re the reason we’re going to win and beat him again,” receiving raucous applause.

As Biden detailed the “sacred obligation” to care for US servicemembers, he said he “(looks) at veterans completely differently than Donald Trump.”

Biden delivers remarks at the St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 28, 2024. - Kent Nishimura/AFP/Getty Images
Biden delivers remarks at the St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 28, 2024. - Kent Nishimura/AFP/Getty Images

“Donald Trump, when he was commander in chief, refused to visit a cemetery, a US cemetery outside of Paris for fallen American soldiers, and referred to those heroes, and I quote, as ‘suckers and losers.’ He actually said that. He said that — how dare he say that?” Biden said, sharply raising his voice for emphasis.

“I call them patriots and heroes. The only loser I see is Donald Trump,” he said to a standing ovation.

While citing indicators of economic progress, particularly for communities of color, Biden pointed to recent comments from Trump predicting an economic crash and hoping it would happen within the next year.

“It’s unbelievable — it’s un-American,” Biden said, “Donald Trump knows this economy is good and strong and getting stronger. He knows that while it’s good for America, it’s bad for him politically.”

The economy, Biden said, “has grown more in the past six months … than Trump’s entire four years in office.”

And Biden cast a possible second Trump term as a “nightmare.”

“I want you to imagine the future nightmare if Trump’s back in office. I’m serious. Given the nightmare when he was in office, you know what is likely to come,” he said, warning that “Trump and his MAGA friends” would try to claw back the Affordable Care Act, slash Social Security, and “take away your freedoms.”

Introducing the president Saturday night, Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s only Democratic member of Congress and a top Biden ally, argued that Biden has been directly responsible for improvements benefiting communities of color, pointing to repairs to major highways, driving down the cost of insulin, and relieving student loan debt.

“We’ve got a president with compassion,” Clyburn said. “Joe Biden never gives up.”

The weekend campaign swing underscored that Biden still has work to do to get that message out before November. His campaign is investing early in ads targeting Black communities, among others, with localized messages, and working to organize at a grassroots level.

Black voters, South Carolina resident Jonnieka Farr told CNN, “will definitely turn out. But don’t take our vote for granted, either.”

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