After officially announcing their 2024 re-election campaign this week, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will have to make the case to voters as to why they should get another four years in office.
In doing so, the Biden-Harris campaign will especially have to engage their most reliable base: Black voters.
In 2020, Biden and Harris received 92% of the African-American vote, which was critical in them flipping five states blue, including Georgia, which went to a Democrat for the first time in nearly 30 years. Even more notably, Black voters in South Carolina saved Biden’s campaign during the Democratic primaries after South Carolina U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s game-changing endorsement.
In a nod to South Carolina Black voters and Clyburn, Biden named the Palmetto State the first presidential primary state for the Democratic Party for the 2024 cycle and beyond, and appointed Clyburn as part of his campaign’s leadership team.
In a recent interview with theGrio, Clyburn acknowledged the “pretty close relationship” that has developed between the two men over the years. The 82-year-old House assistant Democratic leader said he believes his longstanding relationship with the Black community will be crucial for the reelection campaign.
“My relationship with the faith community, throughout the African-American populace, is a pretty close one and that’s a vote that we have to stay connected to over the years,” Clyburn told theGrio. He admitted, “We’ve had some times when we were not closely connected.”
What has the Biden-Harris administration accomplished for Black America?
In many ways, the Biden-Harris administration has doubled down on its commitments to the Black community since taking office. On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order to advance racial equity throughout the entire federal government, appointed a historic number of Black members of his presidential cabinet and nominated a historic number of Black federal judges.
In his 2024 campaign launch video, Biden highlighted his historic nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court — something political strategist Alencia Johnson said is a “huge accomplishment.”
The former adviser to the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign also noted the administration’s work to address environmental racism, including Biden’s recent executive order advancing the government’s work in environmental justice.
“We have a lot of conversations about climate change, but we often do not center it in … the Black and brown communities that are [impacted] the most by environmental issues,” Johnson told theGrio. “They have also engaged and invested in HBCUs and small businesses that are overwhelmingly Black and Black women-led.”
The Biden-Harris administration can also tout that the Black unemployment rate reached its lowest level in U.S. history. Many billion-dollar investments in rebuilding America’s infrastructure and clean energy projects are being targeted at Black and brown communities, which have historically faced discrimination.
U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-NY, said Biden’s pardoning of federal marijuana convictions of formerly incarcerated people was a major step toward racial justice.
“What he did there to clear the pathway for those individuals to seek housing and employment and have more opportunities post-conviction, I think that was very powerful for formerly incarcerated people who are disproportionately African American,” Bowman told theGrio.
Clyburn said Biden’s American Rescue Plan — which received no Republican votes — did a lot to provide housing and employment relief to Black and brown communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and lift millions of children out of poverty. He also touted the $65 billion investments in making high-speed internet more accessible and affordable to communities of color.
The challenges for the Biden-Harris campaign as it relates to Black communities
Despite some of the achievements of the Biden-Harris administration, other key campaign promises and issues important to Black voters have reached fruition. Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness program, for example, is currently stalled as the Supreme Court decides this summer whether to allow it to proceed.
“If you want to think about the racial wealth gap, the student loan debt forgiveness relief is extremely important — and President Biden delivered on that promise,” said Johnson.
She explained, “The reason people aren’t feeling that [relief] … is not because President Biden did not want to deliver for Black Americans. It is because, unfortunately, even if the president can pass the policies that we so believe in [are] held up in this court, unfortunately, we may not feel that.”
Johnson said other promises like voting rights and police reform were “held up by filibusters” in a tightly divided U.S. Senate.
She also acknowledged that it “did take a bit for President Biden to get on board with getting rid of the filibuster” to enact federal reforms on voting rights protections and police accountability after a year in office. “That did drive a wedge between [the White House and] a lot of activists,” said Johnson.
She continued, “Unfortunately, now we do have … this slim Republican majority in Congress that is going to hold up any of that legislation unless we can cherry-pick … a handful of Republicans that will allow Democrats to pass something through.”
Bowman said he would’ve also liked to see Biden sign an executive order on reparations — something Democrats were unable to do with their slim majority in the 2021-2022 session of Congress.
“He really should form a commission to study the need for reparations for African Americans in our country,” said the progressive lawmaker. “He has the executive power to do it. He absolutely should do it.”
How does the Biden-Harris campaign better engage Black communities?
Biden and Harris have significantly engaged with the civil rights community, the Black church community and historically Black fraternities and sororities — also known as the Divine Nine — over the past two and half years, but Bowman said the administration must work to reach other segments of the Black population.
“There’s a barbershop community; there’s a podcast community; there’s the hip-hop community; there’s an athlete community,” noted the New York congressman. “There’s a lot of different Black communities out there that aren’t plugged into our politics for a variety of reasons. I think he needs to do a better job of engaging them.”
Johnson, who runs her own social impact consultancy agency, 1063 West Broad, said it will be important for the Biden-Harris campaign to begin engaging Black voters early in the 2024 cycle.
Clyburn admitted that Democrats have a “habit” of supporting policies many Black and brown communities rely on and benefit from, like safety net or welfare programs, “but we do not spend enough time explaining to people what that commitment is and what we’ve done.”
He said part of his job will be to make sure “people understand that this president is running on a record that not only is he proud of [but] that they should be proud of [too].”
The role of Vice President Harris in engaging Black voters and women
Harris is the first Black, first female and first South Asian vice president. To that end, Bowman hopes the Biden-Harris campaign will rely on her more than ever on the campaign trail. “I hope the White House empowers her to do that and it has empowered her to do that,” he said.
Clyburn said he believes Harris will be “very effective” in Biden’s reelection efforts, despite “people [being] overly cautious not letting her be herself” earlier in her vice presidency.
“She’s being herself now. People see it,” he noted. “They saw it in her speech down in Tennessee.”
Johnson recalled being at the vice president’s first event since the reelection campaign was announced this week at Howard University. Harris delivered a speech promoting reproductive freedom and gender equality.
She explained: “[Harris] talked about reproductive freedom and … about how the [Supreme Court] Dobbs decision has been such a domino effect of taking us back to … the days in which the government was controlling women’s bodies, Black bodies, people of colors’ bodies.”
Johnson said the campaign has to “let her loose when it comes to these issues because she is so clear on them. “That is the reason that she became his vice president on the ticket.”
She continued: “I look forward to them letting her loose on all of these issues going across the country, not only touting the achievements of the Biden-Harris administration, but really making it plain and putting the Republicans and the conservatives on notice that they have messed with the wrong coalition of people who are led by her.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and White House Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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