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Trump, Biden clash over race as contest nears end

Brian Wright O’Connor
Trump, Biden clash over race as contest nears end
A voter drops a mail-in ballot at a box in City Hall. BANNER PHOTO

The closing weeks of the volatile 2020 presidential campaign have seen the candidates reach out to both their base supporters and the broader electorate as each seeks to cobble together the 270 Electoral College votes needed to gain the White House.

President Donald Trump, despite a continuing history of divisive rhetoric, improbably anointed himself a champion of African Americans in the final debate, seeking to put a dent in his opponent’s overwhelming advantage among Black voters.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden has used every high-profile media opportunity to paint his opponent as a coddler of white supremacy and to frame the contest among all voters as a battle “for the soul of America.”

In their prime-time showdown in Nashville last week, the Republican incumbent surprisingly compared himself to the Great Liberator, saying, “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln … nobody has done what I’ve done.”

Listing criminal justice and prison reform, economic grants in disadvantaged communities and long-term funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities among his accomplishments, the president told Biden that he succeeded where the Obama administration failed.

“You know, Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama, because you did a poor job.”

Moments later, Biden circled back to Trump’s invocation of the 16th president.

“’Abraham Lincoln’ here,” said the former vice president, “is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire, every single one. Started off his campaign coming down the escalator saying he’s getting rid of those Mexican rapists. He bans Muslims because they’re Muslims.”

Biden then cited the president’s failure to denounce white supremacy in their first debate, when Trump told a racist militia group to “stand back and stand by,” which was widely interpreted as a signal to prepare for action.

“About the Proud Boys, last time we were on stage here, Biden said, ‘I tell them to stand down and stand ready.’ Come on, this guy has a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn.”

The debate, smoothly moderated by Kristen Welker, a veteran Black correspondent for NBC, was tame compared to the debacle of the first debate, which was dominated by the president’s repeated interruptions. Trump refused to participate in a scheduled second debate, which was set to be held with the candidates speaking from separate locations.

With just days to go before the Nov. 3 final election, millions of voters have already cast ballots by mail or at early voting sites across the country. Polls show Biden with a nine-point lead nationally and a closer winning margin in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, where the White House could be won or lost.

High African American turnout in places like Florida and Texas could help turn reliably red states blue this time around as white suburban women, turned off by Trump’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic and rancorous political style, also seem likely to vote against the president.

Trump’s only demographic dominance over his Democratic foe is among white men, who prefer the president over Biden 57% to 37%. Not even the notoriously conservative Manchester Union-Leader newspaper in New Hampshire is backing the president, endorsing a Democratic nominee for the first time in over a century.

The Democratic nominee’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate has proved popular among both women and people of color, with the California senator poised to possibly become the first woman and the first woman of color to serve directly beneath the commander in chief.

During a “60 Minutes” interview aired last weekend, Biden explained his choice of the former California attorney general and San Francisco prosecutor.

“Number one, her values. Number two, she is smart as a devil. Number three, she has a backbone like a ramrod. Number four, she is really principled. And number five, she has had significant experience in the largest state in the union, running a Justice Department that’s only second in size to the United States Justice Department,” he said.

During the same episode, Harris told CBS’s Norah O’Donnell that the president is a racist and cited his stoking of false conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace as evidence.

“You can look at a pattern that goes back to him questioning the identity of the first Black president of the United States,” she said.

“You can look at Charlottesville, when there were peaceful protesters. And on the other side, neo-Nazis, and he talks about ‘fine people on either side,’” she added, referring to 2017 violence between white nationalists carrying torches and progressive demonstrators seeking to remove monuments linked to the slave-holding South. “Calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. His first order of business was to institute a Muslim ban. It all speaks for itself.”

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