After helping Biden advance in 2020, Black women are not likely to abandon him now

As more Democratic leaders and voters call for President Biden to step aside after his lackluster debate performance, Black women remain his mainstay.

In conversations at a national music festival in New Orleans on Saturday, a small gathering of organizers in rural Georgia immediately after the debate last month, and in recurring chats via text messages and phone calls, Black women Democrats have reaffirmed their willingness to vote and organize their communities to support Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, whose spot on the presidential ticket they lobbied vigorously for in 2020.

Many acknowledged that the president’s debate performance was flawed. Others shared concerns that his weakened record and meandering responses on the debate stage would make it harder for them to motivate black voters, who have already expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket.

But they have joined a broad group of black lawmakers who have publicly rejected the idea, which is now circulating widely among others in the party, including a group of leading Democrats in the House of Representatives. — that Mr. Biden should step aside.

“All this attention that Democrats are putting on the airwaves and not trying to persuade and motivate voters is just a distraction,” said Stefanie Brown James, co-founder of Collective PAC, an organization that supports black candidates at all levels of government. “I just don’t think it’s helpful right now.”

Black women have long been the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting bloc. More than 91 percent of black women who voted in 2020 supported Mr. Biden, and polls have consistently shown that they remain his most enduring constituency, one that has yet to crack, even as those same polls suggest a broader decline in support among black voters.

Interviews with nearly two dozen black Democratic women, including many of the grassroots organizers who played a key role in Biden’s victory four years ago, indicate that a large majority of this loyal voting base is not yet ready to abandon him or Ms. Harris.

Their continued support is driven in part by pragmatism. If he were to drop out, many argued, it would throw the Democratic Party into disarray and seriously jeopardize their chances of defeating former President Donald J. Trump, whom they see as a threat to democracy and the racial progress made in recent decades.

Mr. Trump’s comment during the debate about immigrants taking “black jobs” was widely circulated online and gave some black leaders a chance to remind voters of his racist and limiting remarks. And the latest New York Times/Siena College poll shows Mr. Trump with about 15 percent of black support — a decline from previous polls, while widening his overall lead over Biden in swing states.

But Ms. Harris is also a major factor in their support, they said, and they shared concerns that efforts to undermine Mr. Biden could also undermine her as part of the ticket and harm her future prospects. Should Mr. Biden step aside and Democrats choose a candidate other than vice president, it would almost certainly represent a monumental loss of black support, many suggested.

Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove of California compared the Democratic Party to a sports team during a panel discussion with the Congressional Black Caucus PAC on Saturday at the Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans. The party’s victories depend not only on its coach, she said, but also on “its star players.”

“We also have to remind ourselves that we have a Black woman who is the vice president of the United States of America,” she said. “We have to continue to protect her because she is the point and the part of the ticket that still sees us when the Republicans don’t.”

Biden has repeatedly insisted he would not be pushed out of the race, reiterating his commitment to running again in a letter to congressional Democrats on Monday. But in recent days, Ms. Harris, who has not wavered in her support for Biden, has gained traction as an alternative presidential candidate.

Some donors who have begun to shun the president have shown new interest in Ms. Harris. Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell last week that he would support Ms. Harris if Mr. Biden stepped aside, adding that Democrats should “do everything we can to support her, whether she’s in second place or at the top of the ticket.”

At the Essence Festival, where she took part in a moderated conversation, Ms. Harris drew a large, animated audience of mostly black women. Many said in interviews that while they supported Mr. Biden, they were excited about the prospect of seeing Ms. Harris at the top of the ticket — either this year or in 2028.

One of the attendees, Joyce Dallas-Maryland, said she believed Ms. Harris would be an “excellent replacement” for Mr. Biden but felt it would be too disruptive to the party to change course now.

“I’m on Biden’s team, and those who are standing in line with him,” said Ms. Dallas-Maryland, who traveled to the festival from Mobile, Alabama. “They stand for democracy, and that’s what I stand for — democracy — too.”

This week, Ms. Harris will host a series of campaign events, including two on Tuesday in Nevada, a crucial swing state. She will also have the chance to speak directly to black women at national meetings for two black sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha, of which she is a member, on Wednesday, and Zeta Phi Beta, in late July.

On the airwaves, Black women have been among the most prominent defenders of the Democratic ticket. In a CNN interview with Victor Blackwell on Saturday, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun called Democrats’ criticism of Biden “very disheartening,” even as she acknowledged his poor debate performance. She said “the chatter has got to stop.”

Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida issued a statement Sunday emphasizing her support for the Biden-Harris ticket and condemning Democrats who called for Biden to step aside, saying anyone who does so “needs to get their priorities straight.”

The Black women supporting Mr. Biden also point to his record. He has appointed more Black women to federal courts than any other president, and his policies to lower the cost of insulin have disproportionately benefited Black people with diabetes. And while his student loan forgiveness plan has been dogged by legal and legislative obstacles, his administration recently canceled student loan payments for more than 160,000 borrowers — a boon to Black women, who disproportionately carry more student debt.

“Abandoning Joe Biden and Kamala Harris feels to me personally like abandoning my own freedoms,” said Jotaka Eaddy, a veteran Democratic strategist who regularly meets with Black women organizers and elected officials. “I’m not willing to do that.”

A group of more than 150 Black women organizers who attended a rally in Macon, Georgia, the day after the debate said plans were immediately made to shore up support for the president. Some leaders now schedule weekly meetings to discuss emergence strategies.

Leaders of several of these organizing groups, which target both rural Black voters and voters in the deep-blue Metro Atlanta region, say they will focus their efforts on young voters and men. They also plan to counter what they see as Republican-led disinformation efforts targeting Black voters through in-person engagement.

Yet many of the same organizers who delivered for Mr. Biden four years ago face a much greater challenge in reelecting him. In polls, focus groups and interviews, black voters have shown less interest in supporting Democrats this November and expressed considerable frustration with Mr. Biden. Some, citing higher prices due to inflation and the party’s failure to pass voting rights or criminal justice legislation, have said they will vote for Mr. Trump or abstain altogether.

Veteran organizers also face fewer resources to complete their work. Some said recent Supreme Court decisions focused on affirmative action had limited funding for organizations explicitly focused on engaging Black communities.

And while they stand behind Mr. Biden, some organizers are also making contingency plans. They have been in discussions with donors and other leaders of Black voter mobilization organizations about shifting strategies if Democrats move forward with a new nominee, said a prominent Georgia organizer with direct knowledge of the discussions. She requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Still, some black Democratic women said the immediate calls and plans for a new standard-bearer indicated a lack of loyalty to the president whose re-election they had pledged to support.

“After the debate, it was all about his performance and how he looked and sounded and all that,” said Leah D. Daughtry, a veteran Democratic strategist. “We haven’t gotten to the performance of this administration and what the last three and a half years have looked like.”

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