Biden needs Black voters to turn out better than ’16, in Florida and across nation – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

John Kennedy|Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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As long as absentee voters' ballots are postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 10, they will be counted.

QUINCY, FL From rural churches to downtown streets, Democrat Joe Bidens campaign is pushing hard to turn out one of his strongest but most uncertain bases of support - Black Floridians.

Four years after Hillary Clinton was stung by diminished backing from Black voters, Biden is relying on this 13% of the Florida electorate to help him carry a state most analysts say President Trump must win to have any chance for a second term.

Former President Obamas visit Saturday to Miami is among the most eye-catching events designed to rally black voters to Biden, who needs to regain strong minority turnout levels seen in the 2008 and 2012 elections to carry the biggest presidential toss-up state.

In rural Gadsden County, Floridas only county with a majority Black population, a steady stream of voters stopped to cast their ballots at the elections supervisors office in downtown Quincy during the first week of early voting.

Many acknowledged that their choice of Biden was actually more of a vote against Trump.

More: How many Floridians have voted so far in the November 2020 election?

Im fed up to here, said Emma Connner, 62, a child care worker, stretching her arm high above her five-foot-one-inch frame. These past four years under Trump have been terrible.

In a county where 72% of the 30,911 voters are registered Democrats, there is little question about who is the White House favorite among most Gadsden voters although Conner volunteered that her sister and brother-in-law in Atlanta are diehard Trump voters.

Everybody needs to vote. This is the year for change. Weve been through so much this year, and for the past four years, said Frederick March, 64, a Quincy retired food distribution worker. Biden may not be the best candidate ever. But hes the one we need now.

In a pandemic that has seen churches shut their doors to in-person services, disrupting a usual rallying site for Black voters, a struggling economy and health concerns haveBiden organizers finding new ways to get people to the polls.

Related news: Florida Republicans and Democrats nearly even in ballots cast after first day of early voting

This has affected the way we campaign, said Dr. Rev. Joe Parramore, the statewide faith vote director for the Biden campaign. Campaigning virtually, with texts, Facebook and phone calls is certainly more challenging than being able to work in the communities.

The Trump campaign also hasnt completely conceded Black voters to Biden.

Campaign surrogates, including U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, one of the presidents more high-profile allies, werepart of a campaign bus tour Tuesday in Tallahassee at a Black Voices for Trump community center, a storefront opened for the campaign.

The campaign has opened similar community centers in Floridas major cities to increase the presidents visibility. But Trumps approval rating among Black Americans has steadily been around 10% during his presidency, after a Pew Research Center analysis shows that he won only about 6% of Black voters in 2016.

Some, though, remain skeptical of Biden and the Democratic Party. EmilienDavis, 39, of Jacksonville, said hes inclined to vote for a third-party candidate this year, which he did in 2016.

Ive seen the Democrats roll in every election year with promises they dont keep, Davis said. I just dont like the idea that Biden thinks he has a lock on the Black vote.

North Florida, from Pensacola to Jacksonville, is home to almost a quarter of Floridas Black voters. And Bidens bid for Black support in Florida and across the nation in the campaigns close comes months after his crucial victory in the South Carolina primary on the way to the Democratic nomination was powered by big African-American turnout.

As this years virus-shadowed campaign lurches forward, traditional souls to the polls, events are still planned at many churches on the final Sunday before Election Day, the last day of early voting in most of Florida.

Still, these voter drives are being recast as mostly online activities, with in-person events intended to draw smaller,socially distanced crowds.

Its going to be a hybrid this year, said Rev. Charles Morris, pastor of Quincys New Bethel AME Church. But using Facebook, Zoom and Instagram, we can actually reach more people than we used to. But its different.

That difference is among many concerns facing the Biden campaign as it seeks to nail-down support. Polls show Florida Black voters back the Democrat by a more than 8-to-1 margin.

Black voters are part of a mosaic of constituencies seen as favoring the challenger younger voters, Hispanic voters, suburban women, and this year, even a larger share of older voters. But the level of that support is critical to victory or defeat in a state known for its drum-tight election margins.

Republican voter registration in Florida also has surged this year, with Democrats now holding a narrow 134,242-voter advantage over the GOP, out of 14.4 million total voters.

Trump carried Florida on his way to the White House in 2016 by 112,911 votes, a 1.2% edge over Hillary Clinton.

Analysis of the 2016 contest shows that nationally, the Black share of the vote was down by about 1%, from four years earlier, when President Obama won re-election. A study by the Center for American Progress found there was a decline in Black voter turnout from 62.1% in 2012 to 57.7% in 2016, when Trump defeated Clinton.

A repeat of that in Florida would increase Trump's chances of pocketing the state's 29 electoral votes. Polls show the race is effectively deadlocked in the state.

I think the African-American community is paying much more attention this cycle than 2016, Parramore said.

The Trump presidency has been marked by explosive racial events, from the Charlottesville, Va., march by neo-Nazi groups to the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

The administrations management of COVID-19 also has seen a disproportionate percentage of Black and brown Americans dying. And the economic fallout from the pandemic has cost jobs in many Florida Black communities, where income levels were already below the state average.

Biden adding California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as the first Black woman to run as a major partys vice-presidential candidate has been another attraction for Black voters. Harris, whose father was born in Jamaica, also has opened some doors within Floridas Caribbean community, a sizable share of Black voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Harris was in Orlando for the opening of early voting Monday.

The vice presidential nominee also is key to support from another potent source of get-out-the-vote efforts, the so-called Divine 9, historically Black fraternities and sororities whose networks extend from college students to leaders in business and government.

Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, founded at her alma mater, Howard University, 112 years ago.

Our history in the community is wrapped around service, engagement and getting out the vote. Its fundamental to what we are, said state Rep. Bobby Dubose, D-Fort Lauderdale, a member of Divine 9 fraternityKappa Alpha Psi.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has echoed the Trump administration on the coronavirus, reopening schools and the economy, has taken some steps in this state which appear intended to help the president among Black voters.

Despite vetoing $1 billion from the state budget because of revenue losses from the pandemic, DeSantis preserved $123 million for the states historically Black colleges and universities, which included increases for Florida A&M University, Bethune-Cookman University, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University.

DeSantis went to Daytona Beachs Bethune-Cookman in July to tout the role of HBCUs as trailblazers for innovation, talent and leadership.

The governor also sought to name Palm Beach County Judge Renatha Francis as the first Jamaican-American to the Florida Supreme Court, but was blocked by justices because she failed to meet an eligibility requirement when appointed.

DeSantis fought hard for her selection, possibly gaining some favor among some Caribbean Floridians, and even later urged Trump to consider her for the federal bench.

But such optics may not mean much this election season.

Younger Black votersalso are engaged this campaign season, said Michael Sampson, an organizer with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee. Although Biden was not the top choice among Democratic presidential contenders for many in this cohort, Sampson said younger voters are warming to him.

This summers Black Lives Matter demonstrations across many cities also set a tone for reform that Sampson said has to carry through the November election.

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Biden needs Black voters to turn out better than '16, in Florida and across nation - Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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