Biden should keep expanding approach to Black voters, group of Democratic strategists says

FILE - A man wearing a mask gathers with a group in support of Black Voters Matter at the Graham Civic Center polling site in Graham, N.C., Nov. 3, 2020. Some top Democrats are worried that a dip in Black voter turnout, along with other challenges, could doom President Joe Biden and his party in 2024. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File) (Gerry Broome, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA – Some top Democrats are worried that a dip in Black voter turnout, along with other challenges, could doom President Joe Biden and his party in 2024.

A group of Democrats is offering a new analysis of the most recent campaigns in Georgia and Michigan, pitching those battlegrounds as models for drawing in more Black voters next year and beyond. They argue that Democratic power players need to think — and spend money — in new ways, going beyond efforts that can be last-minute or superficial as they try to reassemble Biden’s 2020 coalition.

Recommended Videos

“The days of the symbolic fish fry and one-time church visit are over,” wrote the authors of the analysis by strategists widely credited for helping flip Georgia and Michigan to Biden. “Black voters have always required an approach to voter engagement as diverse as the Black voting coalition.”

Biden has long depended on Black voters — first as a Delaware senator and most notably in the 2020 South Carolina primary, which delivered him a decisive win that led much of the Democratic field to consolidate behind him. And his campaign says the president's reelection effort already reflects the priorities and approach advocated by the outside strategists.

“The campaign is designing comprehensive and robust programs in battleground states to mobilize and engage Black voters,” said Michael Tyler, the campaign's communications director. He noted the campaign already is running targeted digital ads and building outreach programs in Black communities, months earlier than presidential campaigns typically have launched such efforts.

Yet just 50% of Black adults said they approve of Biden in a December poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. That is compared with 86% in July 2021, with the gap fueling concerns about his reelection prospects.

The new report, shared exclusively with The Associated Press and being presented privately to Democratic power players, contends as part of several recommendations that the left must more regularly engage all Black voters, including the most reluctant, while amplifying arguments about abortion rights in Black communities.

Said Lauren Groh-Wargo, a leader of the push and longtime adviser to Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams: “People need to see something different; they need to see you coming to them and asking for their vote in their cultural spaces.”

The authors include veterans of Abrams’ operation and Michigan’s efforts to approve an abortion-rights referendum and re-elect Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Abrams lost her second bid against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, but Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock beat Herschel Walker to retain his Senate seat, bolstered in part by years of work by Abrams and other organizers.

The report explores why the two states’ 2022 electorates differed from other racially diverse battlegrounds. The contributors want to share their conclusions with the party's biggest donors and top strategists, including those running Biden's 2024 campaign. One of Biden's top campaign aides, Quentin Fulks, managed Warnock's campaign, a point Tyler noted in his response to the report. Fulks and Tyler are both Georgia natives.

The campaign's approach so far is “happening through the leadership of ... a native Georgian from a rural county who won statewide in Georgia last cycle and helped drive historic turnout in one of the most competitive states in the country,” Tyler said.

Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are the seven states that will be critical in deciding the Electoral College next year. Across those states in 2022, Black turnout dropped, on average, about 22% from the 2018 midterms, according to multiple Democratic firms’ data analysis. Lagging Black support for Biden in any three of those states next fall could cut off his path to the required 270 electoral votes.

Michigan’s Black turnout in 2022 was about 90% of its 2018 totals, according to the analysis. But among Black voters under 35, the 2022 turnout was 96% of 2018 levels — notably outpacing other battlegrounds, Georgia included. That bolstered Whitmer's nearly 11-point victory and the abortion rights referendum, which passed by 13 points. The analysis found Michigan’s Black voters supported the initiative by a higher proportion than any other race or ethnicity; that finding was repeated recently in Ohio’s abortion referendum, authors said.

“We were open to the research that showed us just how much this would resonate in Black communities,” said Michigan Democratic Chairwoman Lavora Barnes, the first Black woman to hold her post and a co-author of the report.

“We made it part of a broader message about rights and freedom,” she added, saying Black Americans, because of their historical experience with oppression, are especially attuned to “having our rights taken away.”

Whitmer, who embraced the nonpartisan abortion-rights campaign, said the lessons must carry forward as some Republicans propose national abortion restrictions.

“My generation assumed that these rights would always be intact for us and our children,” the governor, 52, said recently. “Lo and behold, here we are having to fight over and over again to protect these rights.”

Black turnout in Georgia, meanwhile, was about 92% of 2018 levels; Black voters over 50 exceeded their 2018 marks.

If Georgia's Black turnout had tracked the 2022 battleground average, the analysis calculates that about 175,000 fewer voters would have cast November ballots. With Warnock winning more than 9 out of 10 Black votes, that shortfall almost certainly would have meant his defeat to Walker, the only GOP statewide nominee who lost in Georgia last year.

And if Black turnout in other 2022 battlegrounds reflected Georgia's, Democrats almost certainly would have defeated Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and may have won a North Carolina Senate seat, expanding their narrow majority, the authors argue.

Biden was in Milwaukee on Wednesday touting his economic arguments and his administration's support for minority owned businesses. Milwaukee also is the site of one of the campaign's earliest organizing efforts aimed at Black voters, a commitment of money and personnel that Biden's advisers say demonstrates their commitment to engaging the full electorate.

Indeed, those kinds of programs and some of the recommendations from Georgia are challenging and expensive. Abrams’ operation began a decade ago trying to expand voter participation in Georgia, focusing on Black and other nonwhite residents who rarely or never voted. Now Georgia’s political footprint involves hundreds of paid canvassers, sophisticated digital outreach, voter registration drives and door-knocking campaigns even in non-election years.

The report argues that the investment over time creates so-called “super voters" who make the Democratic investment worth it. The document details tactics Georgia and Michigan Democrats have used and that the authors say can be scaled in other states.

The authors note that in 2018, when Abrams first ran for governor, Georgia had more than 1.1 million Black voters deemed “low propensity” and unlikely to vote. After the 2022 election, that has dropped to between 700,000 and 800,000.

Conversely, the “super voter” measure — defined as people who have cast three consecutive general election ballots — has climbed from about 525,000 Black Georgians after 2016 to more than 850,000 after 2022.

Donors and most campaigns, though, still gravitate to traditional turnout models aimed at regular or semi-regular voters. They see the Abrams approach as costing too much money per vote.

“We need other groups out there making contacts with inactive voters because most campaigns just aren’t cut out to do that,” said Preston Elliot, Whitmer’s 2022 campaign manager, who was not involved in the analysis. He complimented figures like Groh-Wargo, Abrams and Barnes but cautioned that the latest effort comes down to resources.

“There are enough tasks out there for everyone to play their parts,” Elliot said. “But ultimately we're talking about finite money here.”


Associated Press writer Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.

Recommended Videos