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Biden, Harris declared White House victors

Black voters played pivotal role in Democrats’ win

Brian Wright O’Connor
Biden, Harris declared White House victors
Ernst Jean Jacques, an organizer with the Freedom Fighter Coalition, leads demonstrators on Essex Street in a chant after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were declared victors in the 2020 presidential election. BANNER PHOTO

Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris rode huge margins among Black voters in decisive swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin last week to become the declared winners in an historic and volatile presidential election.

Buoyed by the strong turnout, the Democratic leaders are now poised to dislodge Donald Trump from the White House after a single term of racially divisive rhetoric and an economic record of business and job growth decimated by the coronavirus.

The Biden-Harris ticket pulled nearly 80 million votes nationally, while the Republican incumbent defied predictions by winning the support of nearly 74 million Americans. The closer-than-expected margin delayed the media from calling the election until four days after ballots were cast.

As of Tuesday this week, President Trump had still not conceded the contest and was pushing for recounts and court challenges while making unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. His early leads in Rust Belt states on election day began to dwindle and then disappear altogether as later tallies from urban areas like Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Atlanta began coming in, changing the mood on election night among Biden supporters from despair to elation within 48 hours.


End of a long race

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Biden spent precious time canvassing for votes in African American strongholds like Philadelphia, while Harris, who would become the first Black woman elected to national office, helped turn out the Black vote in places like Georgia, where the Democratic team holds a narrow lead as the vote count continues.

Former President Barack Obama made numerous appearances on behalf of his former vice president as the race went down to the wire, helping to boost Black voter turnout in areas where weak African American support doomed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Biden finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary before the campaign turned to more friendly territory in South Carolina and other states with large Black voting blocs that lifted Biden to the nomination. During his victory speech Saturday from his home state of Delaware with Harris at his side, clad in white in honor of suffragettes, the 77-year-old president-elect thanked “all those who supported us” but singled out Black voters for particular praise.

“Especially in those moments and especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me,” said Biden. “You’ve always had my back and I’ll have yours.”

Harris, the first Black woman on a major party ticket as well as the first daughter of immigrants and the first graduate of a historically Black college or university to win national office, introduced Biden at the event as a healer who will bind up the soul of America after four years of an incumbent who kicked off his run for the White House by branding Mexicans as rapists.

“You chose hope and unity, decency, science, and, yes, the truth. You chose Joe Biden as the next president of the United States of America,” said the daughter of a professor from Jamaica and a research scientist from India. “Joe is a healer, a uniter, a tested and steady hand, a person whose own experience of loss gives him a sense of purpose that will help us as a nation reclaim our own sense of purpose — and a man with a big heart, who loves with abandon.”


The Black vote

While investments in turnout operations boosted Black voting totals, some surveys showed that Trump won as much as 12% of the African American vote, a 4-point improvement over 2016. Black men in particular shifted slightly towards Trump, with 20% supporting the Republican, up 2% from the 18% who backed him against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden won the support of 87% of all Black voters and 91% of Black women, while Clinton in 2016 won 94% of Black women.

In comparison, in 2008, 95% of Black male voters and 96% of Black females supported Obama.

African American voters in Boston went for Biden by 94%, while overall, Boston voters backed him over the incumbent by 83% to 16%. Statewide, Biden beat Trump 66% to 33% among all voters. Trump won a number of small towns, including places like rural Blandford and Russell that have less than 2% residents of color, where his vote totals approached 60%.

Running on healing racial divisions, expanding the Affordable Care Act, providing a national plan to combat COVID-19, building a green economy and restoring strong ties with allies, Biden was the clear favorite among voters of color in the $14 billion presidential sweepstakes.

Despite repeated failures to denounce white supremacy, blistering oratory and a seeming addiction to attack-tweets, Trump made an aggressive play for Black votes late in the game, based mostly on unemployment levels for Blacks dropping to record lows. He also pointed to reforms that released nonviolent inmates from long federal sentences, record federal support for Black institutions of higher education and a “Platinum Plan” for investments in the Black community as reasons to back him. Expressions of support from rappers like Ice Cube, 50 Cent and Lil Wayne bolstered his case.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins during an Election Day rally. Erint Images photo

Local reaction

Daniel J. Kelly, the Republican State Committee member from the majority-minority 1st Suffolk District, which covers South Boston and parts of Dorchester, said he expects the GOP to continue to make inroads among Black voters, though he conceded much work needs to be done.

“I think the Democratic Party now represents the coastal elites and the ossified civil rights community,” said Kelly, a corporate attorney who lives in South Boston with his wife Lori Brannigan Kelly, who also serves on the Republican State Committee.

“Even if Trump is defeated, Trumpism — and by that I don’t mean the tweets but the governing philosophy of paying attention to those who have been left out — will last,” he said.

Echoing many Republicans, Kelly cautioned that it’s too early to hand the mantle of the presidency to Biden, with so many votes left to recount and court challenges to be resolved.

No such caution prevailed among Democrats who worked hard for Biden’s election.

“Biden’s victory puts us on the verge of one of the greatest turnarounds the United States has ever seen,” said the Rev. Miniard Culpepper, who ran a Black clergy voter-turnout effort in Philadelphia. “And by turnarounds, I mean economic and income, initiatives to work on the inequality gap, education achievement, fighting the coronavirus, showing leadership in the world and decency for the common man.”

The pastor of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Roxbury said he was overjoyed at helping to elect “a president who really believes that Black Lives Matter.”

On Election Day, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley called the Biden-Harris ticket “an affirmation of everything we believe it – climate justice, health care justice, racial justice, economic justice and housing justice. That is all on the ballot.”

Pressley, the Bay State’s first Black woman member of Congress, campaigned in 11 states for Biden and Harris. She said she was inspired by the excitement she saw in battleground territories and the strong turnout.

Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, a veteran media and political consultant who writes a column for the Boston Herald, expressed elation over the result of the election but tempered her reaction with concern over how close Trump came to winning a second term.

“I’m surprised he came so close,” she said. “But what I’m proudest of is that it was the Black community that brought Joe Biden over the top.”

Biden’s gaffes, notably saying to radio host Charlamagne tha God that “you ain’t black” if you support Trump, made her worry about the vice president’s backing in the African American community – along with whispers that Harris “wasn’t Black enough” despite the California senator having attended Howard University and being a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

But the vote came through in large enough numbers and percentages for Biden.

“Now Joe owes the Black community big time,” she said.

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins cautioned that it will take time for the new administration to have an impact on public policy.

“People have to be patient,” he said. “Biden is a man of character and Harris will be a great vice president, but nothing will happen overnight.”

The sheriff noted the loss of House seats in several states and the likelihood of Republicans retaining control of the Senate.

“The results show that this is a center-left, center-right country,” he said. “With challenges like the racial climate we have now, the extreme partisan divide and the pandemic, I hope that Biden’s decades in the Senate means that he can talk to folk like Mitch McConnell in ways that others couldn’t to get things done.”

Brendan H. O’Connell, the sole member of the Republican State Committee from the heavily minority 2nd Suffolk District, warned Biden supporters not to get ahead of themselves.

“I do not consider this election over,” said O’Connell, a business consultant from Jamaica Plain who hosts a pro-life TV program on Boston cable and is the grandson of pre-World War I Congressman Joseph O’Connell. “This race will go to the Supreme Court. With Gore vs. Bush, it took 37 days for the election to be resolved when it came down to three counties in South Florida. This is long from settled.”

But with even Fox News calling the race for the Democrats, most Biden voters could agree with Tompkins’ final pronouncement: “I’m happy with the results. And I’m happy it’s finally over.”