HOUSTON, Texas — President Biden will visit Dallas, Texas, on Monday for the first time in his presidency to attend the funeral of former Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. Black Democrats in the state want more.
Amid concerns that Biden’s message isn’t breaking through with the party’s bedrock base of Black voters, Democrats told Semafor that there were still too few effective messengers working to sell his record to skeptical voters.
“I think the Biden administration needs to be thoughtful about surrogates,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee told Semafor. “I mean, you look at a place like Texas, where you have one of the largest Black populations in the United States, there aren’t a bunch of Biden administration champions running around.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a critical Biden backer in 2020, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday he’s “very concerned” about the president’s Black support and has told him as much in person. “My problem is, we have not been able to break through that MAGA wall in order to get to people exactly what this president has done,” he said.
Biden’s visit comes a week after House Speaker Mike Johnson led a group of members to the U.S.-Texas border to message on border security, a campaign issue that’s already front and center in the 2024 election. Even as Republican members trickled out of the state last week, there’s still a large contingent of GOP lawmakers in the state championing the same border stance. Texas Democrats say it’s less clear who’s representing Biden in the same way.
The party has struggled to replicate Obama-era turnout and margins with Black voters since 2016, and there are some signs in recent surveys that Biden risks a further erosion in support. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll showed the president has the support of 63% of Black voters, down from 87% in 2020 when he defeated Donald Trump.
“If enough people are telling you something, you might want to start to believe it,” Frederick Nickens told Semafor of Biden minutes after being sworn in as the new secretary of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats. He added that Biden needed to show Democrats could still communicate outside of the suburbs, which have become increasingly central to the party’s electoral strategy.
“You’ll show up in the suburbs because you know they’re going to give you dollars, but the people in the hood are going to give you the votes,” Nickens said.
As Clyburn’s comments make clear, concerns about Biden’s messaging are not limited to Texas. Vice President Harris has made voting rights one of her top issues and taken the message to Black audiences as recently as this weekend in South Carolina, but her overall performance has still left Democrats uneasy.
The Biden-Harris 2024 Campaign Advisory Board includes Clyburn, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, who are likely to assume larger public-facing roles as the campaign heats up. But there’s still concern that Biden, for whatever reason, is not generating a clear message about his agenda or organizing and inspiring enough messengers to deliver it.
Room for Disagreement
It’s still January, normally months before an incumbent presidential campaign really hits overdrive. The Biden-Harris campaign has made early investments in paid media that focus on Black communities way ahead of the general election.
“Instead of parachuting into communities of color a few weeks before the election, our campaign is investing earlier and more aggressively than ever before, including with the largest and earliest investment in Black media by a re-election campaign beginning in August 2023,” Principal Deputy Campaign Manager Quentin Fulks told Semafor in a statement. “We are meeting voters in every community where they are and putting in the work to earn every vote and let voters know how President Biden and Vice President Harris have delivered for them in an unprecedented way. The stakes are high for Black America, and we aren’t taking anything for granted.”
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis told Semafor the Biden-Harris administration “has done a hell of a lot” for Black people and compared their efforts to Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society domestic policy packages meant to reduce inequality. “In contrast, you know what’s going to happen on the other side,” he added.
- Charlamagne tha God, a prominent Black radio host, has become an influential Biden antagonist and takes issue with the administration prioritizing attacks on Trump rather than articulating what Biden has achieved for the Black community: “I’m not looking for my politicians to be pure… I’m looking for my politicians to be effective,” he told Politico.
- Biden is struggling with Hispanic voters as well, and political leaders in the community told Semafor they had concerns about the campaign.