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May 16, 2024, 10:20pm EDT
politics

Biden and Trump nixed a debate at a historically black college. Its senators aren’t happy.

Flickr/Kevin Coles
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The News

As the two candidates battle for Black voters, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine is urging Donald Trump and Joe Biden to reconsider their decision to ditch a proposed debate at a historically black college in his state.

In an interview with Semafor, Kaine said he spoke to the Biden campaign shortly after the president agreed to two debates with Trump and pleaded his case for a face-off at Virginia State University, which was scheduled to host a debate on October 1 under a proposal by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

“This is a really good opportunity and neither candidate should squander it,” Kaine recalled telling them. “I don’t have the phone number of the Trump campaign, but I do have the phone number of the Biden campaign.”

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In a statement earlier this week, VSU officials said they were “disappointed” by reports that its plans to host a first-in-history HBCU debate between presidential nominees were in jeopardy and were seeking more information.

“It would be a mistake to just put this in the studio somewhere, you know, anonymous and not take advantage of the opportunity to make history,” Kaine said.

The chances are looking slim after the candidates agreed to two debates that would sidestep the proposal by the CDP, the nonpartisan corporation responsible for organizing presidential debates for the last three-plus decades, to hold three pre-scheduled debates. CNN will host their first debate in Atlanta on June 27, while the location for ABC’s second debate on September 10 is still up in the air.

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“I think it would be, you know, kind of pouring cold water on people’s sense of excitement about this and you shouldn’t be pouring cold water on people’s sense of excitement before the election,” Kaine said.

Sen. Mark Warner, the senior senator of the state, also urged the candidates to “stick to the plan” in a social media post. He also told reporters on Thursday he was surprised and “bitterly disappointed” about the decision to change course, while adding that it would be incumbent for Biden to “show up” to VSU and make his case for reelection.

If VSU can’t find its way into the debates, Democratic Rep. Jennifer McClellan also urged the Biden campaign to “engage with Virginia State University students and the Tri-Cities community with an event before the election.”

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The View From The Biden Campaign

The White House did not directly comment on the VSU situation. But they have emphasized support for HBCUs throughout Biden’s presidency: Kamala Harris has visited her alma mater Howard University, Biden is speaking at Morehouse College this weekend, and the Biden administration put out a fact sheet on Thursday touting investments the administration has made in HBCUs.

“No administration has respected, elevated and invested in HBCUs like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Biden-Harris 2024 Black Media Director Jasmine Harris. “Just this week the Biden-Harris administration announced $16 billion dollars in funding for HBCUs, further demonstrating their commitment to these distinguished institutions.”

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Kadia’s view

Recent polling shows Biden losing support to Trump among both Black voters and young voters, two key groups that an HBCU event would have given the campaigns a unique chance to court. It’s not surprising that Democrats — state politics aside — are uneasy with the appearance of turning it down. Trump also boasted about signing bills that funded HBCUs during his 2020 run and his campaign, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has signaled it plans to make a more aggressive effort at winning Black voters this time around. Don’t be surprised if either, or both, candidates try to find a way to soften the blow for VSU.

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Notable

While the opportunity is there for Trump with Black voters this cycle, Semafor reported last month that his campaign has struggled to quickly build up an organization for targeted messaging and outreach that can match Democrats.

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