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Blacks in swing states must come to the polls for Biden

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

From the very moment that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tossed his hat in the ring, polls and public opinion have consistently shown two things. One is that Biden is the overwhelming choice of black voters for the presidency. This was more than borne out when black voters crusaded to the polls in the South Carolina primary in January and propelled Joe to the top of the heap. Biden never looked back after that.

The second is that there has been a persistent undercurrent among some blacks who plainly detest what Biden represents. Younger blacks who backed Bernie Sanders repeatedly railed against Biden and still relentlessly tick off Biden’s alleged racial sins. That is, his opposition to busing, cozying up to hard-core segregation senators in the Senate, and his supposed diss of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

Then there’s his cheerleading the Clinton crime bill in 1994. No matter how many mea culpas, apologies and recants Joe did, and he’s done a lot, it hasn’t been enough to remove his alleged dubious past sins from the reflexive attacks of some. Little reminders of anti-Biden sentiment keep cropping up. A bunch of progressive black groups “warned” Biden not to pick Amy Klobuchar as his VP pick because of her alleged record on civil rights. Hip-hop entrepreneur P. Diddy, in a tirade against Biden, claimed he wouldn’t vote for him unless he made all kinds of pledges to presumably embrace some kind of Black Agenda.

Now, normally, none of this would mean a darn thing. There’s Trump. You’d have to go back to a rabid George Wallace to find a presidential candidate who blacks universally love to detest more. There’s Obama, who will almost certainly be cheering Biden on during the coming campaign. There’s Biden’s civil rights record, which by any standard is near impeccable on many compelling race-tinged issues. Virtually every black local, state and national elected official and civil rights group will endorse him and implore blacks to storm the polls and vote for him.

Normally, this would be more than enough to shut down any talk of Biden having any weak spots against Trump among blacks. However, what determines who sits in the Oval Office in January is none of this. It’s the five or six Heartland states and Florida that will decide the White House. Trump won several of them by only a minuscule fraction of the vote in 2016, and that put him over the top. Biden will get most of the black vote in those states, but so would any Democratic presidential candidate. That certainly included Hillary Clinton in 2016. As expected, she got the bulk of the black vote. And she still lost.

The reason was simple. Trump energized less-educated, rural and blue-collar whites. And he got more of them to switch to him, many of whom had voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Their vote bumped up the numbers who showed up at the polls for Trump. Clinton did not counter that by bumping up the number of blacks who came out to the polls in those states.

It can’t be said enough that if blacks in cities such as Milwaukee, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa in those swing states had come out in greater numbers, it would be President Clinton, not President Trump.

Just in case one is tempted to chalk up their lackluster turn-out to a Democratic candidate who ran a lousy campaign in 2016, or say that many simply didn’t realize the astounding peril Trump represented, not so. Periodic surveys were done of these disinterested potential voters long after Trump had been busily putting the wrecking ball to civil rights and education, health, and social programs, while savaging every Obama initiative he could get his hands on. Many of them still said they didn’t regret not voting. Their non-show at the polls did much to tip the election to Trump.

Small numbers in a close election made a stupendous difference in 2016. They can do the same  in 2020. Trump certainly knows that. He’ll do everything to sow that tiny seed of doubt about Biden among a handful of blacks. The end game is the same — win, even if it’s done with a few malcontented black voters. The lesson of 2016 for Biden and the Democrats is that it takes just a few to hurt.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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