PHILADELPHIA — Cassandra Ferebee stood in a long line to vote on an overcast and rainy day, saying she was determined to cast her ballot for Joseph R. Biden because President Trump inflamed racial tensions and tore the country apart.
“He’s taking us back 200 years. We don’t need strife in this country. We need to be built up,” said Mrs. Ferebee, 53, a Black woman who also backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
She could have been reading from Mr. Biden‘s virtual stump speech.
A few hours later, violence erupted in her city after a Philadelphia police officer shot and killed a 27-year-old Black man allegedly wielding a knife as he ran toward the officers.
The rioting — which injured at least 30 police officers Monday — extended a spate of social justice and anti-police demonstrations across the country that is energizing Black voters in support of Mr. Biden. The blaze of racial anger also is expected to drive a higher level of Black voter turnout than in 2016, which marked the first decrease in Black voter turnout in 20 years of U.S. presidential elections.
And yet, Trump campaign officials say the president has made inroads with African American voters, especially Black men. They predict that Mr. Trump will improve his share of the Black vote nationally from the 8% he got in 2016 to double digits next week.
That could offset higher turnout from a demographic that usually votes Democratic and tilt the scales in the key battleground of Pennsylvania, where Mr. Biden likely needs big numbers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and its suburbs.
Mr. Trump doesn’t need to win over voters such as Mrs. Ferebee. He didn’t get them in 2016 either but still eked out a historic Pennsylvania win that put him in the White House.
The fight for Black voters is a fight at the margins of the electorate. But in Pennsylvania politics, the small things can have a major impact, said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
“Key is the share of the Black vote that the president can get. He has tried to reach Black voters, and particularly Black men, with the hope he can perform a few points better than in 2016,” he said. “This slightly-better share may not offset the overall yield that Biden gets from larger Black voter turnout, but as I have said the small things may matter in large ways.”
Other recent polls have shown the race tightening more, with the Republican-leaning Trafalgar Group survey showing the race tied and Insider Advantage showing Mr. Trump edging out Mr. Biden by 2 points.
Mr. Trump proclaimed himself the best president for African Americans since Abraham Lincoln. The mention of that boast drew laughs and scowls from Black voters in line with Mrs. Ferebee.
“I don’t think he did nothing for Black people. He’s just trying to take everything away from poor people and give it to the rich,” said Joshua Price, a 43-year-old Black man in line to vote at City Hall.
Mr. Biden is hoping to capitalize on that anti-Trump sentiment. He has vowed to invest more in historically Black universities and make it easier for Blacks to purchase a home and start small businesses.
Mr. Trump is running on the historic wins he has delivered for Black Americans, including passing criminal justice and prison reforms that were long sought by Democrats and achieving record low unemployment for African Americans before the pandemic hit.
Mr. Trump is making the case that Black communities have suffered because they lived in cities run by Democrats. The Democratic Party takes the Black vote for granted, he says.
“It’s gone on for a hundred years,” he said at a recent rally in North Carolina. “Give me your vote, give me your vote,” and then after the election’s over, it’s like, “Gee, I don’t remember you. Let’s talk in three-and-a-half years from now.”
Mr. Trump‘s approval rating with Black voters has been ticking up, hitting 46% in a recent Rasmussen Reports survey.
Mr. Biden, his running mate Kamala Harris and top surrogates such as former President Barack Obama have ramped up charges that Mr. Trump is a racist or even a White supremacist, underscoring their need to shore up and energize the base.
“Donald Trump fails to condemn White supremacy,” Mr. Biden said at a rally Tuesday in Atlanta. “He doesn’t believe there is systematic racism as a problem, and he won’t say Black Lives Matter because they do. We know they matter.”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama mocked Mr. Trump for comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln and scolded Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump‘s adviser and son in law, for saying African Americans need to want to be successful.
“His son-in-law says Black folks have to want to be successful,” Mr. Obama said at a rally in Florida. “That’s the problem. Who are these folks? What history books do they read? Who do they talk to?”
Mr. Obama told the crowd of roughly 270 cars that the only people better off than they were four years ago are billionaires who benefited from Trump tax cuts. He then chastised Mr. Trump for not getting Republicans to pass another coronavirus relief package for working-class voters.
“It is not like it is his money we are asking to pay because he doesn’t pay taxes - barely pays income taxes,” he said.
Mr. Biden also enlisted Kiari Kendrell Cephus, better known as the rapper Offset, to urge the Black community to flex its electoral muscle.
“We need all y’all Black folk get out here and vote!” he said, warming up a crowd in Atlanta before Mr. Biden‘s appearance.
⦁ Seth McLaughlin reported from Washington, D.C.
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