Democrats are still shell-shocked from Donald Trump’s 2016 upset, even as early-vote numbers in 2020 reach a historic high.
That’s why they are pulling out all the stops to make sure that a key constituency — Black men — votes. And this time, they’re being more explicit with their ask: Don’t just cast a ballot. Vote for Joe Biden.
The Democratic Party is inundating Black male voters with the Biden-Harris message on radio, television and digital platforms. Meanwhile, the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC and the Black voter-focused organization BlackPAC have shelled out seven figures each in the final stretch of the campaign. Their efforts amount to a combined $17 million in ads and get-out-the-vote efforts this month targeted to infrequent Black voters — and young Black men in particular.
Democrats say their heavy investment is designed to prevent a repeat of 2016, when disillusionment among some Black male voters kept them from voting for Hillary Clinton or going to the polls at all. Now, as early turnout among Black voters reaches an all-time high, those leading the final effort to get Black men to the polls see the path to a Biden victory running through communities that didn’t vote in 2016.
“The overwhelming majority of Black men did vote for Hillary Clinton [in 2016], but there was a difference. We’re trying to reduce that difference as much as possible,” said Democratic National Committee member and former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, noting the lukewarm reception Clinton received from Black men in 2016. “This election is going to be close. We know this. Every vote literally counts and must be counted. And we are not bulls—-ing around.”
In 2016, Hillary Clinton garnered 91 percent of the Black vote, slightly lower than the 93 percent support Barack Obama earned in 2012. While a majority of Black men supported her candidacy, exit polls showed a wide gap between their support for the Democratic nominee and that of Black women — a trend across racial groups.
Trump’s campaign has attempted to win over Black men at the margins as it sees men across racial and ethnic groups as one of the few ways for the president to grow his constituency. Rapper Lil Wayne announced his endorsement of President Trump on Thursday, adding to the list of entertainers and athletes the president’s reelection campaign has courted to draw more Black support and siphon voters from Biden. But critics have concluded that Trump’s outreach to minorities is more about convincing white voters that he is not racist than actually gaining their support.
Still, Trump is performing slightly better with Black voters this year than he was in 2016, at 12 percent approval according to an October New York Times/Siena College poll. His reelection campaign has partnered with Black celebrities like Ice Cube to appeal to the Black community and introduced the $500 billion platinum plan as a promise for the next four years.
It’s a reminder to Democrats of the importance of engaging and listening to Black men, who often have grumbled about politicians from both parties courting their support while failing to enact policies that matter to them.
Brandon Gassaway, national press secretary for the DNC, said that after Clinton’s loss in 2016, the party “recognized that we needed to do something different. That we needed to be more intentional and direct in our outreach.”
Their last push this month, he said, is “an example of our commitment to speak to these voters consistently and intentionally” while delivering policy change.
“This isn’t just about one election, one administration,” Gassaway said. “This is a long-term effort that we’re trying to build.”
Democratic pollsters like Cornell Belcher say Democrats’ success with Black men ultimately comes down to whether those at the margins come out for Biden or protest by voting third party. Still, he said, looking at the overwhelming Black support that Biden currently enjoys, concerns about a large number of African American men defecting to Trump are overblown.
“Ninety percent of African-Americans are voting for Biden. And we’re going to focus on the 10 percent who are not? It’s the forest for the trees,” Belcher said during a press call with the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday.
“He’s in that Obama-like performance level. But we’re taking nothing for granted.”
Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.
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