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Democratic Rivals Want To Turn Black Voters Away From Biden


For all of his admitted stumbles on the debate stage, former Vice President Joe Biden remains at or near the top in just about all polls for the Democratic presidential nomination. That appears to be because of overwhelming support from black voters. His rivals want that support, too. The question is how, as well as if, they can get it. Two NPR reporters have been pursuing those questions. We begin with NPR's Asma Khalid.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren know they need black voters to get the nomination. And the most realistic path they see is through young black voters.


BERNIE SANDERS: The young generation of today is the most progressive generation of young people in the history of this country.

KHALID: Sanders was speaking Thursday on the campus of Morehouse, a historically black college in Atlanta. Twenty-two-year-old India Hutchison (ph) was in the crowd. She admires the Vermont senator for his consistency.

INDIA HUTCHISON: Maybe some of his ideas are a little radical, but I feel like we're past the point of gradual change.

CHARLESTON FORD: I feel like he's the most genuine.

KHALID: That's Charleston Ford, a Georgia Tech student who skipped class to listen to Sanders in the middle of the day. The 2016 election shook Ford. He was old enough to vote, but he didn't. This time, he says he'll vote for any Democrat against Donald Trump. But he hopes that Democrat is not Joe Biden. Young people here agreed Biden is not progressive enough. Look at his hesitation to legalize marijuana, they say. It's outdated. A few hours later, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren took the stage at Clark Atlanta University.


ELIZABETH WARREN: Racism still whispers the convenient lie to some white people that if your life has problems, you should blame them, people who don't look like you.

KHALID: And at this historically black university, there were also young Biden skeptics.

JAYLAN SCOTT: Joe Biden, it's time to sit down.

KHALID: That's 20-year-old Jaylan Scott (ph).

SCOTT: Biden is just of that old type of moderate thinking. There's no hope for him.

KHALID: He says Biden speaks to his grandma, not to people like him. Sydney Pascal (ph) says the former vice president relies too often on his ties to President Obama.

SYDNEY PASCAL: I was only, like, 10 years old when he was our vice president, and so I don't remember anything that he did for us.

KHALID: Pascal says she likes that Warren is talking directly to her generation. Plus she puts the Massachusetts senator on a higher pedestal because she's a woman.

PASCAL: I think it's definitely time to have our first female president.

KHALID: Warren is trying to reach the black community through young black women. In Atlanta, she spoke about black washer women who went on strike in the late 1800s for higher wages. But all these candidates are struggling to recreate the Obama coalition, which included both old and young black voters. For NPR News, I'm Asma Khalid in Atlanta.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: And I'm Scott Detrow with Joe Biden in South Carolina. It's the first primary state where African American voters play an outsized role. Biden has a commanding lead here overall and among black voters. Karen Dudley-Culbreath from Greenville came to Biden's Thursday town hall.

KAREN DUDLEY-CULBREATH: Because I love Vice President Biden.

DETROW: That has a lot to do with his eight years as Barack Obama's vice president.

DUDLEY-CULBREATH: Because of the things that he's done as vice president, his statesmanship over the years and his ability to beat Trump.

DETROW: A lot of other black voters say that's why they're backing Biden, too. And in Greenwood, he talked about that association a lot, sometimes poignantly, like reflecting on how he worked as a public defender in Wilmington shortly after race riots. Then, 40 years later, he was on the city's train platform headed to the 2009 inauguration.


JOE BIDEN: Waiting for an African American man to pick me up who was on a train coming from Philadelphia, Pa.

DETROW: Other associations were a bit more awkward.


BIDEN: I worked with a guy who was an African American. His name was Barack Obama.

DETROW: Hugging the Obama administration so close has its downsides, especially in an era of supercharged progressive activism. A Latina woman named Silvia (ph) asked Biden a pointed question via a translator.


SILVIA: (Through interpreter) Because of the deportations were so high under the Obama administration, it is hard for me as an immigrant to trust you.

DETROW: When she and several activists kept pressing Biden, chanting and holding signs, he was blunt.


BIDEN: Well, you should vote for Trump.

DETROW: Biden says he's surprised at how many Democrats now criticize Obama's record.


BIDEN: I mean, like, whoa, Jack. Where y'all come from, you know what I mean?

DETROW: Biden's bet - that black voters will keep rewarding his eight years at Obama's side. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Greenwood, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.