As Biden Struggles With Black Men, Allies Gather at White House

As President Biden’s allies grow more worried that his standing is slipping among Black men, his aides met on Tuesday at the White House with influential Black male Democrats to discuss how to increase his popularity with a crucial group of voters before the 2024 election.

Several attendees said there was general agreement that Mr. Biden, during both his 2020 campaign and his first three years in office, had paid more attention to Black female voters than to Black male ones. These people said they had suggested to Mr. Biden’s aides that the president needed to make a specific argument about how his administration had improved the lives of Black men.

“It’s clear that there’s been a focus on Black women and the question becomes, has there been an equal focus on Black men?” said Cedric Richmond, a former Louisiana congressman and Biden administration official who is now a senior adviser at the Democratic National Committee and who was at the meeting.

He added: “There’s been a mantra that Black women are the base of the party and, I think, it’s Black families that are the base of the party. That has the potential to separate the family unit by gender, which I think is just unfortunate.”

The afternoon meeting included, among others, Representative Steven Horsford of Nevada, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee; Lt. Gov. Austin Davis of Pennsylvania, who has warned publicly that Mr. Biden’s standing with Black voters has fallen; and Antjuan Seawright and Clay Middleton, political operatives from South Carolina who are closely associated with Representative James E. Clyburn, a key Biden ally in the state.

The group agreed that Mr. Biden had many accomplishments that had helped Black men. Democrats, he said, are falling short in telling this story.

“We left the room acknowledging that we collectively have to do a better job communicating,” said Kwame Raoul, the attorney general of Illinois. “Sometimes being awakened to a challenge is a good thing.”

The White House session followed months of nail-biting among Democrats about rising skepticism of Mr. Biden among Black voters, especially Black men. Republicans have aimed to drive a wedge between Black voters and the Democratic Party in recent cycles, arguing that former President Donald J. Trump’s record on the economy and his passage of a criminal justice law were more beneficial for Black communities — arguments that Democrats have dismissed as disinformation.

Polling released by The New York Times and Siena College last month found that 22 percent of Black voters in six of the most important presidential battleground states said they would support Mr. Trump against Mr. Biden next year, an alarming figure for Democrats given Black voters’ decades-long loyalty to the party.

At the meeting on Tuesday — led by Steve Benjamin, the director of the White House’s public engagement office — the Black male allies of Mr. Biden were encouraged to recount what people in their communities and home districts had been saying about his administration and whether they would support him for a second term.

“There have been communication gaps,” said Harold Love, a Tennessee state representative who is the incoming president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. He said the administration needed to tell people what Mr. Biden had done “in plain language so they can understand.”

The White House declined to comment about the meeting.

In interviews and focus groups, Black men who express openness to supporting Mr. Trump have pointed to the former president’s record on the economy and said their businesses and families fared better during his administration. Black Democrats have rebutted this idea, in some cases arguing that Black men have been targeted by disinformation that, if crystallized in enough voters’ minds, could endanger the president’s already shaky standing with them.

Mr. Raoul, the Illinois attorney general, said that part of Mr. Biden’s problem was that he had articulated a complex message that often ended up competing with easier-to-digest misinformation.

“Sometimes when you do a lot, it’s difficult to convey it to folks who are used to consuming things in sound bites and who have been at times recipients of intentionally targeted misinformation,” Mr. Raoul said on Tuesday.

Democrats have emphasized earlier and more frequent outreach to Black communities as important to winning their voters.

Vice President Kamala Harris has frequently met with small groups of Black men as she has traveled the country and, last month, hosted a group of 10 Black men in the news media and politics for dinner at her home in Washington. The party has also bought advertisements on Black radio stations and placed digital ads geared toward young Black voters.

Mr. Benjamin’s office in the White House has held frequent meetings with a variety of constituency groups.

But the meeting on Tuesday followed a particularly bad stretch of polling for Mr. Biden. CNN polls released Monday found Mr. Biden trailing Mr. Trump by 10 percentage points in Michigan and five points in Georgia — both battleground states with large numbers of Black voters.

Even though Mr. Biden has no serious Democratic presidential challengers, the party’s primary election in South Carolina on Feb. 3 will be an early test of Black voters’ enthusiasm. Black voters made up nearly 60 percent of the Democratic electorate in the state in 2020, when Mr. Biden’s victory there set him on the path to the White House.

No other Democrats have made a significant investment in the state’s primary this year, but the South Carolina Democratic Party on Monday nevertheless began a statewide voter outreach program, complete with a 50-person staff and a six-figure investment.

Mr. Middleton, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden’s South Carolina campaign, said the meeting was ultimately meant to help determine how best to relay the president’s accomplishments and his plans for a second term to Black men across the country, with a focus on battleground states.

“If we ignore what Black men are saying, then we would have some problems,” Mr. Middleton said. “This is to say, ‘We will not ignore.’”

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