HomePoliticsRepublicans hope to win black voters for Trump. It won't be...

Republicans hope to win black voters for Trump. It won’t be easy

By Bianca Bloemen

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN (Reuters) -Orlando Owens, a rare Republican activist in a predominantly black district of Milwaukee, had hoped this election season would be different.

With national polls showing waning enthusiasm for Democratic President Joe Biden, especially among Black voters who say they are frustrated with his performance on the economy and other issues, Republican Party officials and activists saw an opening.

Wisconsin will hold its primaries on Tuesday, where voters will weigh in on the presidential race, weeks after Biden and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump secured their respective nominations.

Wisconsin Republicans hosted a Black History Month event in February at the party’s community engagement center in the historic Black Bronzeville district. Owens, the Republican Party’s representative for the city’s six black precincts, is planning a roundtable this month with black business and church leaders and a door-to-door campaign aimed at undecided voters.

But the push for voter engagement was thrown into disarray when the Republican National Committee announced last month that it would scrap plans for 40 community centers aimed at organizing Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters — underscoring the challenges facing the party faces in convincing Milwaukee’s black voters that they are committed to the community, even after the November election.

“Our commitment has always been questioned, but regardless of the building, we will be here, even if we have to work from satellite offices or garages,” Owens said.

The state party said it will keep Bronzeville’s community engagement center open.

Reuters spoke to nearly 30 Black voters in Milwaukee’s predominantly Black neighborhoods, about half of whom said they still had not decided in November whether to vote for Biden or vote at all. About 10 of 15 residents unhappy with Biden also expressed skepticism about Republicans’ long-term commitment to the area and issues of concern to Black voters.

A third of those 30 voters, mostly retirees, said they planned to vote Biden for a second term.

Strong Black voter turnout in Wisconsin and a handful of other states helped propel Biden to the White House in 2020, and those same states are also expected to help decide the 2024 election.

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The Democrat won Wisconsin by fewer than 21,000 votes, but won Milwaukee by about 146,000 votes, with 53% of votes cast in majority-black precincts, according to an analysis of election and census data by John Johnson, a researcher on the subject. public policy at Marquette. Lubar Center Law School.

“It’s fair to say that without Milwaukee, Biden would have lost Wisconsin,” Johnson said.

A Pew Research Center poll found that Biden’s approval rating among non-Hispanic Black adults fell to 48% in January, down from a peak of 89% in April 2021.


The Republican effort to win over Black voters began in 2020 with the opening of the Bronzeville Community Center. It increased in 2022 when the RNC chose Milwaukee to host the party convention.

Bronzeville is a mile north of the Fiserv Forum, where Republicans will meet in July to formally nominate Trump.

In the early 20th century, the neighborhood flourished as a center for entertainment and commerce. But the construction of a highway through the heart of the neighborhood in the 1960s resulted in the demolition of more than 8,000 homes and the relocation of businesses.

“On the surface, it seems pretty clear that they’re trying to push into the most Democratic part of Wisconsin to plant a flag,” said Jon Fleischman, a Republican strategist. “I think the party sees Donald Trump’s candidacy as an opportunity to create new constituencies.”

The Republican party office, located at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, is decorated with a striking white fireworks display on a red and blue background of the Juneteenth flag, commemorating the emancipation of the last enslaved people at the end of the Civil War.

Inside is a collage of black Republican members of Congress, portraits of civil rights leaders — and an image of Trump, a polarizing figure who has used racist rhetoric.

The outreach center was largely at a standstill during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brian Schimming, the state party chairman, acknowledged that consistent engagement will be crucial to winning over black voters.

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“What’s happened with Republicans in recent years is that if you spend money where your most loyal voters are — cities and places that you don’t pay much attention to, you’re going to do worse,” Schimming said. “For me it’s all about being there and listening to people. If we don’t do that, honestly, we shouldn’t win.”

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters that Trump’s team, which now controls the RNC, did not like the community centers and believed the money could be better used to hire people in the community to deal with voters to get in touch.

Wisconsin Republicans plan to hire neighborhood canvassers this spring to ramp up their door-to-door campaign efforts, buy radio ads aimed at black audiences and eventually staff the Bronzeville office full-time, they said Shadow.

Party officials said their voter outreach efforts will highlight residents’ concerns, including inflation, an increase in robberies and carjackings and the Biden administration’s handling of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border .

Cafe owner Shana Gray, who voted for Trump in 2020 and plans to do so again, said inflation has been tough on local black-owned businesses. “I used to get about 40 to 50 customers an hour. Now I’m lucky if I get that many a day,” she said.

Although party leaders have expressed their long-standing commitment to the community, some residents remain skeptical about their motives.

When Gloria Harper, a 46-year-old teacher and author, first saw the signage for the office in 2020, she said she contacted her local city councilor to complain that it was a “bad idea.”

“It’s strategically important for them to put that in the black community because you want to gather more black votes – but realistically, ‘what have you done for the black community?’ Not much.”

Coming up with the ‘tangible things’

A poll conducted by the left-wing political action committee BlackPAC, in partnership with the Democratic polling firm Brilliant Corners, found that black support for Trump among likely voters in seven swing states, including Wisconsin, had fallen to 8% in February 2024 from 9% in November. %. last year.

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Robert Brox, a small business owner in Milwaukee, voted for Biden in 2020 but said he will likely sit out this election. He said his company has struggled to access government-backed loans through the Small Business Administration.

“It’s about who comes up with the tangible things for Black and brown businesses. If you don’t do that, you won’t be voted for,” he said.

Democratic strategists acknowledge that Biden must shore up his support among black voters if he wants to hold Wisconsin in November.

Milwaukee Election Commission voting data shows presidential election turnout has fallen 19% in majority-black counties since 2012.

The Biden campaign has begun airing radio ads in Wisconsin and other battleground states touting record low Black unemployment and an increase in the number of Black-owned small businesses.

“He won’t lose the African American vote in Wisconsin, but losing even a few votes could make the difference between winning and losing a state, and possibly losing the White House,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist .

Democrats are confident that updated legislative plans will blunt the impact of Republican courtship with black voters. The maps were signed in February after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Republican-drawn maps intended to limit representation from Democratic areas.

Ben Wikler, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said fair district distribution could increase voter turnout.

“Republicans have had a hammer on the state legislature, so we haven’t been able to pass any laws. There’s an understandable cynicism about voting and voting, and not seeing change.” he said.

Meanwhile, Biden retains the support of some Black voters, such as 70-year-old retiree Michael Shands, who believes job growth for Black Americans has blossomed during his time in office.

“He has done more than any other president. I want him to stay here for another four years so he can finish the job.”

(Reporting by Bianca Flowers and Eric Cox in Milwaukee, Nathan Layne in Green Bay; Editing by Kat Stafford and Suzanne Goldenberg)

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