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Biden, Trump head into first debate battling for support from Pennsylvania's Latino and Black voters

Benjamin Kail, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump head into their first debate this week after ramping up their fight for Black and Latino voters in Pennsylvania, two crucial voting blocs that could sway the election in a pivotal battleground state that Biden won by just 80,000 votes in 2020.

So far this year, Biden's edge with Black voters in the state appears to be slipping.

Exit polls in 2020 suggested Biden won Black voters by an overwhelming margin, 92% to 7%. But recent surveys by CBS News and the New York Times/Siena College/Philadelphia Inquirer gave Trump 18% of the Black vote in Pennsylvania.

And Republicans and Democrats alike are keenly aware that Biden in 2020 didn't fare as well as Hillary Clinton did in 2016 with Latino voters — a quickly growing community across the state. More than 600,000 Latinos will be eligible to vote in Pennsylvania on Nov. 5, according to the Pew Research Center.

Republicans hope increased outreach can continue to put a dent in Democrats' edge with Latino voters: 69% of Pennsylvania's Latino voters cast a ballot for Biden in 2020, compared to 27% for Trump, but 74% supported Hillary Clinton and just 22% Trump in 2016, according to exit polling.

The Trump campaign and the state Republican Party in recent weeks have opened offices aimed at courting Latino and Black voters in Reading and Philadelphia. The outreach is part of a wider effort among conservatives to focus on perceptions of the economy, border policy and crime under the Biden administration, to draw support from groups that have traditionally favored Democrats.

"He's made the appropriate moves not only in outreach to minority voters but commitment to activity on the ground," Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based GOP consultant, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, referencing Trump. He added that many minority voters may be asking, "What has the Democratic Party done for me recently?" and that their social and economic views are often aligned with Trump.

"Joe Biden is going to tell them — he's going to tell all of us — the economy is hunky-dory when most families are having a tough time making ends meet," he said.

The Biden campaign, which already has two dozen field offices across Pennsylvania, has been targeting Trump's "history of anti-Latino rhetoric" in an ad that ran in several swing states including Pennsylvania earlier this year.

The ad said that Biden believes Latinos make the country stronger, while highlighting Trump's labeling of Latinos as "criminals," "drug dealers" and "rapists," and how he has suggested that immigrants are "poisoning the blood" of the country. Campaign officials have also said Latinos are more aligned with Biden on taxes, health care, abortion rights and job creation.

Kenya Dworkin y Mendez, a professor of Hispanic studies at Carnegie Mellon University, said the Latino community is often oversimplified, "meaning that there are different pockets and different socio-economic levels, and they're going to have different views."

"I think a lot of people, no matter where they're from, are feeling like they don't have a whole lot of choices because the two choices are problematic — although I think that one is less problematic than the other," she said. "If I had my way, there's no way in hell that Trump could run for any office, even garbage collector, because I don't think that he would do it right. I think there's enough evidence where he's revealing himself as not having the kind of character that a leader that a large country like this should have."

The intensifying fight for minority voters in Pennsylvania comes ahead of the candidates' first debate in Atlanta on Thursday, and after several campaign stops by both men in the critical state, along with several visits by Biden administration officials in recent months. First lady Jill Biden visited Lancaster on Saturday and second gentleman Doug Emhoff is attending today's groundbreaking ceremony for the new Tree of Life site.

And Trump returned to Philadelphia for a rally at Temple University on Saturday, his first visit to the state since being sidelined by a criminal trial that led to a conviction on charges of falsifying business records.

"The people of Pennsylvania are going to tell Joe Biden, 'You're fired, get out, get out,'" he told the crowd. "Few communities have suffered more under the Biden regime than Philadelphia. The city of brotherly love is being ravaged by bloodshed and crime."

Trump blamed crime in Philadelphia and other American cities on "Biden migrant crime," adding that "all these millions of people that have come in here are just getting warmed up."

He added that illegal immigrants are "taking African American jobs and Hispanic American jobs."

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first African American to hold the position, visited Philadelphia last month in an effort to boost engagement and support among Black voters, who helped pave the way for Biden's nomination and eventual victory in 2020.

"The bottom line is we've invested more in Black America than any previous administration in history has," Biden told a crowd at Girard College on May 29. "We're opening more doors for economic opportunity, including access to capital, entrepreneurship, workforce training so you can build a life of financial freedom and create generational wealth."

Terri Minor-Spencer, formerly incarcerated founder and president of West End P.O.W.E.R., told the Post-Gazette that back in 2016, she understood why Trump won over Clinton, as Trump was "a fresh person that claims to be this millionaire."

"Do I understand it now? I do not," she said. "We feel that we are — and I'm talking about Black people — we can't believe where we are right now. We feel like we did a whole lot of fighting just to get here — and we feel smacked in the face. (Republicans) are literally talking that January 6 was about patriots. They stormed the Capitol, and we have a party that is literally calling them patriots. What are we doing? It gets frustrating. It gets tiresome. Where we are right now is extremely heartbreaking."

At the Trump campaign's Reading Latino office launch, Berks County Commissioner Michael Rivera said that "Latinos represent an increasingly important voting bloc whose support can significantly impact election outcomes. We're not only an economic powerhouse, but we are also a political powerhouse."

"It makes a lot of sense for Trump to open up a Latino headquarters in Pennsylvania," said Vince Galko, a Pennsylvania Republican strategist. "Legal Latino immigrants are the ones hurt most by illegal immigration. They're the ones competing for jobs, schools and health care with the illegal immigrants who are working for much less. It makes sense to court that vote even more than the past."

Maca Casado, the Biden campaign's Hispanic media director, suggested in a statement that a similar "Latino Americans with Trump" launch in Nevada featured few Latinos. She accused the former president of "doubling down attacking immigrants, and espousing the same racist tropes against Venezuelans."

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party recently celebrated on social media the 12-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed "young people who've lived here most of their lives to seek an education, pursue careers and strengthen our communities.

"Donald Trump tried to end DACA entirely, but President Biden will keep fighting to protect Dreamers in Pennsylvania and across the nation," the Democrats added.

Another ad announced by the Biden campaign, running in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada, highlights Trump's kiss of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a Phoenix town hall earlier this month. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that Arpaio racially profiled Latinos and targeted immigrants, and dozens of lawsuits against the former sheriff have cost the county hundreds of millions of dollars, according to PBS. He lost a reelection bid in 2016.

 

The campaign said the embrace showed "Trump's airtight, long-standing relationship with America's most infamous sheriff, who had dedicated his life and career to violating the civil rights and freedoms of Mexicans and Latinos across Maricopa County."

'Will you shut up, man?'

The divide over minority voters is sure to arise in the debate Thursday, along with a host of other flash points that have made their way into Biden's and Trump's speeches in Pennsylvania this year: the economy, abortion, immigration, the fentanyl crisis, energy, the Israel-Hamas war, China and trade policy.

J.J. Balaban, a Democratic strategist and ad maker based in Philadelphia, said one factor that makes the debate interesting is that "it is by far the earliest in the year for there to be a general election presidential debate."

"People are increasingly getting their information from siloed, and sometimes biased, media sources," he said. "Presidential debates aren't perfect, but they provide an unmediated opportunity for the candidates to make their cases directly to voters."

While fact checkers often find mistakes, exaggerations or downright falsehoods by debaters of both parties, Balaban also noted that Trump is "notorious for not telling the truth."

"It will be interesting to see in the debate how President Biden and the moderators cope when Trump makes probably false claims," he said.

The debate will feature no audience, and the candidates' microphones will be turned off when it isn't their turn to speak, according to CNN, which is hosting the debate. The network seeks to avoid crosstalk and the relentless barrage of interruptions by Trump that inspired Biden to say, "Will you shut up, man?" during their first 2020 debate, which many pundits described as the worst ever televised.

"Unfortunately the old saying of 'Never interrupt your enemy while he's making a mistake' doesn't apply to Donald Trump," said Galko. "If Biden's given the chance, enough rope, to keep espousing on his own, it could become pretty clear pretty quick that he's not mentally fit for the job. However, in past debates President Trump has not allowed his opponents much chance to talk."

Gerow said if Trump "goes too hard, there is a certain risk" of alienating viewers, a majority of whom thought Biden won their first debate in 2020, according to several polls.

"Allow Joe Biden to talk enough that he gets off his note cards and his talking points," he said. "Remain presidential, and give Biden enough rope to hang himself."

'Pennsylvania is number one'

The debate comes with heightened attention on Pennsylvania among political experts.

While Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia remain pivotal battlegrounds, none carry the weight of Pennsylvania, with 19 Electoral College votes compared to 16 in Georgia, 15 in Michigan, 11 in Arizona, 10 in Wisconsin and six in Nevada.

The race in Pennsylvania has been an effective dead heat for several months, with Trump leading by an average of 2.3 percentage points, within polls' margins of error, according to polls tracked by Real Clear Politics. Trump averages a 3.4% lead among all the top battlegrounds tracked by the site.

"So far, the polling shows President Biden doing significantly worse in the sunbelt states that he won in a 2020 surprise (Georgia, Arizona) than he does in the 'Midwestern' swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania," Balaban said.

If he only wins the states that Clinton won in 2016 and loses any of those he flipped in 2020, "Pennsylvania is pretty much a must-win state for him," he said.

Trump, who carried Pennsylvania in 2016 after six consecutive elections in which the state voted Democratic, returned to the state for the Temple rally after campaign stops earlier this year in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley and a Wildwood, N.J., rally attended by many Pennsylvanians.

The Temple event marked Trump's first visit to Pennsylvania since his criminal conviction; he also held his last rally before the trial began in the Keystone State.

"Pennsylvania remains the number one state in the country," Gerow said.

The conviction, and separate civil cases that found Trump liable for sexual assault and financial fraud, are in the spotlight in a Biden campaign ad running in Pennsylvania that's part of a $50 million ad buy in the run up to the debate.

Biden has already barnstormed Pennsylvania twice as many times as Trump so far this year.

The president kicked off 2024 with a speech near Valley Forge casting Trump's leadership as a threat to the republic and citing the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters as part of a failed push to "hold on to power relentlessly."

Since then, his visits include a Pittsburgh speech to the powerful United Steelworkers union, his native Scranton, multiple stops in Philadelphia, and campaign events across the commonwealth marking the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act's signing and looking to bolster outreach to Black voters.

"At this point, Pennsylvania is widely perceived as one of the top three most competitive states in 2024, which perhaps explains why President Biden has visited so frequently that the state Department of Revenue may start asking him to pay the state income tax as a resident," Balaban said.

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(c)2024 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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