ATLANTA -- Three years after challenging black voters to shrug off support for Democrats and back him, President Donald Trump used Atlanta as a staging ground for a new black outreach initiative that he said would be a key part of his 2020 reelection bid.
Surrounded by roughly 400 supporters, including some who were from out of state, the president on Friday invoked the refrain he repeated so often during the 2016 campaign in front of largely white crowds as an appeal to black voters: "What the hell do you have to lose?"
Those who took the gamble and supported him, Trump said, were rewarded with criminal justice initiatives, low black unemployment rates and staunch opposition to abortion, he said at the launch of his Black Voices for Trump group. Democrats, he countered, can only come up with empty promises.
"Under Democratic politicians, African Americans have become forgotten -- literally forgotten -- Americans," Trump told the crowd, a mostly black audience that also included much of the Georgia GOP's top leadership. "Under my administration, they've become forgotten no longer."
Outside the cramped Georgia World Congress Center, hundreds gathered to protest the president, waving signs mocking his agenda or supporting his impeachment. Some got into shouting matches with Trump supporters. And earlier in the day, several of Georgia's most prominent Democratic leaders assailed his presidency.
State Sen. Nikema Williams, the Atlanta-based chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said Trump was bringing his "backward agenda to Georgia to pretend like his actions haven't been a disaster for the black community and marginalized communities across this entire country."
"In Georgia, we know better on issues from healthcare to criminal justice to education to basic respect, Donald Trump has failed to be a president for all Americans, especially Americans from marginalized backgrounds," Williams said Friday morning.
Trump is trying to improve on dismal support among black voters. Just 8% of them cast ballots for him nationwide in 2016. And a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that only 4% of blacks think Trump's actions and policies have benefited black people.
Angeline Payne, who lives in South Fulton, said she attended the event to support Trump and "rally and recruit" black voters. More blacks need to get engaged in politics and stop letting others tell them how to vote, she said.
"If you live in America, you're involved," said Payne, 58. "So you should get educated. Find out about the parties, where the parties came from, how they represent you, and then make a decision on what party you want to be and don't let somebody tell you what party you're in."