Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is using the morning of the first presidential debate to make a direct appeal to Black voters to turn out and vote early, rolling out two new video messages on popular Black celebrity news sites featuring former President Barack Obama and Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate.
Each of the videos, which were shared with the PBS NewsHour before their release, will appear on The Shade Room and The Young, Black, and Fabulous, and will include a pitch to back Biden and to make a plan for where and when to vote locally.
The move comes as some polls show a tight race between Biden, who Black voters overwhelmingly support nationally, and President Donald Trump, who has struggled to gain traction with Black voters, amid nationwide protests over police killings of Black Americans and a pandemic that has disproportionately affected them. The new videos are part of a push that will include additional homepage takeovers with popular websites to increase turnout among Black voters who were critical in helping Biden secure the Democratic nomination and are critical to Biden’s final weeks of the race.
“Our campaign is focused on meeting voters where they are, outlining Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ plan to build back better, and encouraging them to vote,” said Kamau Marshall, the campaign’s director of strategic communications, adding that the new videos “reach a critical audience of Black voters that we’re hoping to turn out this fall.”
Biden leads the president in national polls and in some of the swing states Trump won in 2016, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But Biden has struggled overall with enthusiasm. A poll released last week from the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics found 56 percent of likely voters who support the president are “very enthusiastic” about voting for him, while only 35 percent of likely voters who backed Biden said the same when asked about their enthusiasm for the former vice president.
Most polls show Biden with a wide lead among Black voters. A recent Morning Consult poll found 84 percent of Black voters supported Biden while 10 percent backed Trump and 7 percent were undecided or backing a third-party candidate.
The Trump campaign has made its own push around Black voters and recently released what it is calling the “platinum plan” outlining policies for Black communities, including job creation, criminal justice reform and economic investments. At the Republican National Convention and through its Black Voices for Trump effort, the campaign has tried to position the president as the better advocate for Black Americans. But the Biden campaign insists Trump isn’t serious about helping Black communities — pointing to Trump’s at-times racist language, his unwillingness to speak directly about systemic racism and his characterization of protesters as unlawful and radical, tensions that will likely also become a central part of Tuesday’s debate.
Obama’s video will be released through The Shade Room, a website that often features celebrity and Black culture news and that interviewed Biden in March and again in June this year.
“As you know, the election is coming up, and I’ve got just one word for you: vote,” Obama says in the video. “Actually, I’ve got two: vote early.”
Obama goes on to talk about voter suppression. “Right now, from the White House on down, folks are working to keep people from voting, especially communities of color,” he says, leveling a charge at Trump without saying his name. “That’s because there’s a lot at stake in this election. Not just our pandemic response or racial justice, but our democracy itself.”
Trump has repeatedly attacked mail-in voting without evidence throughout his presidency, but has ramped up that rhetoric amid the pandemic, when many more Americans are expected to vote by mail to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19 at polling places. Most of his attacks have been rhetorical but in some cases, the president and his campaign are actively fighting to prevent people from having access to certain methods of voting. In the key battleground state of Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign has sued to try to prevent the use of election drop boxes. Disenfranchisement is a real concern among many Americans, especially Black Americans, who are worried that they won’t be able to vote or that their votes won’t be counted.
Meanwhile, the video featuring Harris will be released on The Young, Black, and Fabulous, another Black celebrity and culture news website, which also features some political stories.
Like Obama, she, too, encourages voters to cast their ballots early. “We know it’s all on the line, everything from women’s health to our jobs, from Black businesses to the quality of our schools and our communities,” Harris says in the video. “And of course, we must defeat COVID-19 and confront racism and injustice in our country.”
Despite struggling with Black support, Trump has tried to sow doubt around Democrats’ record and their follow-through on issues important to Black voters. He has also accused Biden of taking advantage of their support, things he echoed in a campaign speech last week in Atlanta.
“When I ran for president four years ago, I looked at the shameful record of the Democrat party, and asked Black Americans, ‘What the hell do you have to lose?’” Trump said last week at his Atlanta campaign event. “I want to share what you have to gain from voting Republican on November 3rd — the biggest election of our lives. For decades, Democrat politicians like Joe Biden have taken Black voters for granted.”
This was a theme Trump also tried to stress last month at the Republican National Convention, where several Black conservatives argued that Trump would usher in wage increases and prosperity in Black communities. Trump won the support of just eight percent of Black voters in 2016, more than the Republican nominees who ran against Obama in 2008 and 2012, but shy of the nine percent support President George W. Bush won in 2000. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won 88 percent of Black voters. The Trump campaign is hoping to increase its numbers this November.
At the Democratic convention, Biden and other Democrats pointed to Biden’s connection with Black leaders and activists and argued that he would be better tasked with dealing with racial injustices and inequalities facing Black Americans.