Biden is struggling to connect with key Democratic voters. Is Trump enough to fix it?

WASHINGTON − A Day One executive order addressing racial inequity. More federal loans for Black businesses. Actions to lower prescription drug prices and cap the crippling cost of insulin.

“Putting in the work for Black America,” a narrator says in a President Joe Biden campaign ad that ran this fall, listing these accomplishments.

But when Yolanda Pickstock travels across Georgia and listens to Black voters, she doesn’t hear the same list.

The people she meets with are worried about thousands of low-income Georgians being removed from the state’s Medicaid program, and cuts to child care assistance and food stamps. They struggle to identify what Biden has done for their communities.

Biden won Georgia in 2020 by 11,779 votes. Any softening in Black support would kill his chances of a Peach State repeat. But many Black voters can’t see how Biden’s presidency has improved their lives.

“They are unclear about what they’ve gained from this administration,’’ said Pickstock, legislative director for Georgia STAND-UP, a progressive advocacy group based in Atlanta. “Activists are clear and people in the movement are clear, but voters on the ground are not. They are still experiencing difficulties.’’

The disconnect with voters in Georgia, a crucial battleground that helped Biden win the presidency in 2020, underscores why many Democrats are anxious about Biden as the party’s standard-bearer.

With the 2024 presidential election 11 months away, Democrats are rattled by polls showing Biden trailing former President Donald Trump in a hypothetical rematch and worried Biden’s legislative accomplishments − including historic funding for infrastructure and climate and helping spearhead new manufacturing jobs − haven’t resonated with key voters.

Meanwhile, Biden, who turned 81 in November, hasn’t silenced concerns about his age.

In an especially troubling sign for Biden, polling suggests that voters of color − Democrats’ most important and reliable voting bloc − are unenthused, and in some cases unconvinced, about the president. A poll from HarrisX/The Messenger last week found only 59% of Black voters and 45% of Hispanic voters said they would vote for Biden in a race against Trump. Biden won support from 92% of Black voters and 69% of Latino voters in 2020.

Pickstock said some Black voters don’t feel their lives have improved much in the past three years. Amid the president’s legislative victories, inflation − although down substantially from a year ago − has increased more than 17% during Biden’s term, while wages have gone up 13%.

“They’ve got to talk to people where they are,’’ said Pickstock, also a longtime labor activist. “In Washington, D.C., people have a tendency to talk what they know and what they believe people want to hear, but they don’t get out into the communities and talk to people about what they want.”

Democrats bank on Trump being the ultimate motivator

With the start of voting in the Democratic primaries two months away, Biden is all but certain to be the party’s nominee − and there doesn’t appear to be a viable Plan B if he were to suddenly drop out.

Biden has a commanding lead over his two long-shot Democratic challengers, writer Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democratic congressman from Minnesota. With qualifying deadlines having already passed to appear on some states’ primary ballots, it is probably too late for a more prominent Democratic challenger to mount a campaign.

For Biden to win next November, he will have to motivate a Democratic base that doesn’t appear excited by his candidacy. A CNN poll in September found two-thirds of Democrats don’t want Biden to run again, and 70% cite his age or concerns about his mental sharpness, health and ability to handle the job.

Democratic operatives in states that could decide the election are quick to praise Biden for rebuilding the economy coming out of a global pandemic and pushing a progressive agenda through a divided Congress.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a Commit to Caucus rally, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa.

Yet with Trump the heavy favorite to secure the Republican nomination, they are banking on the threat of a second Trump presidency to fire up Democrats.

“To be honest, people are not energized and mobilized right now,” said Christine Sinicki, a Wisconsin state representative and chair of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County. But an enthusiasm gap isn’t unusual this far out from a presidential election, she told USA TODAY, and she predicted Democrats will rally behind Biden next year. “People will realize, ‘Oh wait, we’re in election season, and we can’t take a chance of letting Donald Trump become president again.'”

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