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‘You’re the reason I am president’: Biden embraces Black voters in S.C.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — President Joe Biden on Saturday returned to the state that sparked his 2020 comeback, where he’s all but certain to win the first sanctioned Democratic primary next week.

Biden headlined the South Carolina Democratic Party’s “First-in-the-Nation” celebration dinner, delivering an amped-up message to Black voters, a key part of the state’s Democratic coalition and a constituency vital to Biden’s success in November.

Biden leaned into what his administration has accomplished for Black Americans while highlighting his choice to elevate South Carolina to the first-in-the-nation slot. He also dug into Donald Trump, ramping up his attacks on the heavy favorite for the GOP nomination.

“The truth is, I wouldn’t be here without the Democratic voters of South Carolina, and that’s a fact,” Biden said. “You’re the reason I am president. You’re the reason Kamala Harris is a historic vice president. And you’re the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president. You’re the reason Donald Trump is a loser, and you’re the reason we’re gonna win and beat him again.”

His trip to the Palmetto State was one of several treks he and the vice president have made to the state this month, as the president’s aides and allies view the February primary as an important moment to demonstrate his support among Black voters — and to beat back critics concerned about Biden’s standing with the key bloc.

The president ran through a list of policy accomplishments from record unemployment to prescription drug savings, drawing a sharp contrast between himself and his predecessor. Biden repeatedly touted “a promise made, a promise kept,” as the vocal, mostly older crowd joined in a call and response with the president.

A fiery Biden quipped that Trump is “a little confused these days,” referring to the former president’s mixing up Nikki Haley and Nancy Pelosi in a speech earlier this month. And his voice grew angry as he talked about Trump’s past comments about veterans.

“As commander-in-chief, I look at veterans completely differently than Donald Trump. Think about this, especially here in South Carolina. A proud military state. Donald Trump, when he was commander-in-chief, refused to visit a U.S. cemetery outside of Paris for fallen American soldiers. And referred to those heroes as, and I quote, ‘suckers and losers,’” Biden said.

“He actually said that. He said that. How dare he say that? How dare you talk about my son … like that? Look, I call them patriots and heroes. The only loser I see is Donald Trump.”

A few protesters interrupted Biden’s speech, with two people calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and criticizing Biden’s Israel policy, as “four more years” chants drowned out their shouted demands. Another urged the president to declare a climate emergency.

Rep. Dean Phillips, who was also at the event, didn’t participate in the call and response, but stood to clap for Biden as the crowd gave the president a standing ovation. Phillips received a cold reception during his speech, in which he asked Biden to “pass the torch” and warned of the risk of Trump winning in November. He also had to repeatedly ask attendees to listen while they walked around the room and talked during his remarks — another sign he was deep in Biden territory.

Before the dinner, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) accompanied Biden as the president made his first stop at Regal Lounge barbershop in downtown Columbia, taking selfies and shaking hands with customers. After the press was ushered out, one attendee told POLITICO that Biden thanked them for their past support, asking “for their support going forward and reminding folks of some of the work he’s done [for Black voters] and what he’s trying to do.”

Biden’s visit to the state is the latest example of his reelection campaign ramping up after a slow start that underwhelmed many Democrats.

South Carolina Democratic operative Antjuan Seawright, who was at Biden’s events on Saturday, said, “South Carolina, we appreciate Retail Joe. That’s the Joe Biden we know. Him coming by a barbershop in South Carolina, the Black man’s sanctuary, was a sign that he knows the importance of high tech and high touch.”

Campaign aides have reiterated that the purpose of the South Carolina visits is two-fold: Ramping up support for Biden in advance of the primary while also trying to make good on a promise to cement the state’s first-in-the-nation primary status.

“The president was very serious when [he said] he wanted to make sure that the Democratic primary spoke to the full diversity of the Democratic Party and making sure that the base of the party, Black voters, had a say in the early stage of the process,” said a senior Biden campaign official, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about internal thinking.

In addition to the string of visits, the Biden campaign moved early to announce on-the-ground aides in South Carolina before other general election battlegrounds had permanent staffing. Surrogates have swung through the state in recent weeks while the campaign has poured six figures into paid advertising, including on television and Black radio stations.

While recent polls have shown Biden underperforming among Black voters compared with his 2020 results, his advisers are hopeful these early investments will send a message that the campaign is prioritizing their support — and that it can help dissolve Dems’ concerns about sagging enthusiasm.

“Feb. 3 is your primary, the first in the nation,” Biden said, as he wrapped his speech. “Organize. Mobilize. Vote. Let’s remember who we are.”

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Author: POLITICO