In His Beloved Philadelphia, Biden Faces Wariness From Black Voters

In Milwaukee on Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted her work to close the racial wealth gap. In Atlanta on Sunday, President Biden will deliver the commencement address at Morehouse College, an all-male historically Black institution. And in Detroit the same day, he is expected to speak at an N.A.A.C.P. dinner.

But as Mr. Biden and his team intensify their efforts to engage Black voters, evidence keeps emerging that he faces serious challenges among that politically powerful, heavily Democratic group of Americans, threatening his ability to resurrect his victorious 2020 coalition.

And perhaps nowhere are those problems more striking than in Philadelphia, the largest city in Mr. Biden’s birth state and a place he visits seemingly constantly — pulled back by his roots, its proximity to his current homes and an awareness that Pennsylvania delivered him the presidency four years ago and could decide his re-election bid this fall.

In interviews with nearly two dozen voters in predominantly Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia this week, as well as with elected officials and strategists, signs of softness in Mr. Biden’s standing were palpable.

Just eight voters said they were committed to voting for Mr. Biden, while many others were debating staying home, or, in a few cases, supporting former President Donald J. Trump. They cited concerns about immigration, the cost of living and their sense that Mr. Biden was more focused on crises abroad than on fixing problems in their neighborhoods. And despite Mr. Biden’s robust policy accomplishments, some were unfamiliar with his record.

“I don’t care about what goes on overseas,” said Latasha Humphrey, 36, an infrequent voter who is considering supporting Mr. Trump, if she votes at all. “I care about where I live.”

Democrats have long banked on strong showings in Philadelphia — and more recently, its suburbs — to offset weakness in more conservative parts of this closely divided state. Their concern is not that the city’s Black voters will gravitate en masse toward Mr. Trump, but that too many of them, apathetic about their choices, might simply stay home.

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Voting booths at a Philadelphia polling site.
Pennsylvania is again one of the country’s top battleground states, and Mr. Biden will need strong turnout from Black voters in Philadelphia to repeat his 2020 victory in the state. Credit…Caroline Gutman for The New York Times
Democratic worries about Philadelphia turnout rates, particularly among voters of color, date back years and are not unique to Mr. Biden’s candidacy.

But his specific struggles are evident in polling, which for months has shown erosion in Black support across battleground states.

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Biden is doing slightly worse with Black voters than four years ago, though he still wins the vast majority, according to a New York Times/Philadelphia Inquirer/Siena College survey released this past week. He was the choice of 69 percent of Black voters now, compared with 79 percent in June 2020. Mr. Trump was ahead in the state overall in the most recent poll.


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