Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at an outdoor “Black Economic Summit” while campaigning for president in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 23, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden traveled to the battleground state of North Carolina on Wednesday for a Black Economic Summit, part of a broader effort his campaign has launched to woo entrepreneurs and Black voters.
It was Biden’s first trip to this key state since the coronavirus pandemic forced him to cancel campaign travel this spring. In 2016, President Donald Trump won North Carolina by nearly four points, and this year it is again considered a must-win for the Republican.
As of Wednesday, state polling averages showed Trump and Biden running neck and neck in the Tar Heel State, with Biden leading by a statistically insignificant 0.5 points. This week’s CNBC/Change Research poll showed Biden with a 2-point lead in the state.
Adding to the urgency of the contest is that voting in North Carolina has already begun. The first absentee ballots were mailed out on Sept. 4.
On Wednesday, Biden’s campaign hosted the summit in Charlotte, where the former vice president delivered remarks and then took questions from a socially distanced audience of Black local business owners and community leaders.
Biden drew attention to several of his previously announced economic proposals, including his plan to provide an additional $70 billion to historically black colleges and universities.
He called for a national coronavirus business reopening standard backed by a multibillion-dollar federal testing and PPE supply chain, so that small business owners would not only have consistent health guidance, but the means to carry out those recommendations.
Biden also addressed the racial wealth gap and the reality that the pandemic’s ongoing economic shock has only served to widen economic racial disparities.
“We have to break a cycle, and the cycle is that the African-American community, by and large, finds itself at the bottom of the economic heap when businesses are doing better and when things are good,” said Biden. “Then when things get bad, they’re the first ones in the hole. And when things get better again, they’re the last ones out.”
Federal unemployment data backs up Biden’s argument. In August, the unemployment rate among Black Americans was 13%, while among White Americans it was only 7.2%.
The employment disparity is compounded by the fact that Black and Hispanic households are less likely than White households to have a financial cushion in the event of job loss. According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, 73% of Black adults and 70% of Hispanic adults indicated earlier this year that they did not have emergency funds to cover three months of expenses, compared with 47% of white adults.
The Biden campaign is hoping that a strong plan to address systemic income inequality, as well as Biden’s choice of Sen. Kamala Harris of California to be his running mate, helps him to make up the ground that Democrats have lost in the state over the past two election cycles.
Black voters make up nearly 23% of North Carolina’s electorate, the largest share in any of the major battleground states. Black voters have long been considered reliable Democratic voters. Trump nonetheless surprised observers in 2016 when he made inroads with Black men, capturing a total of 13% of their votes. This is more than three times as much support as Trump won from Black women.
Both the Biden and Trump campaigns expect North Carolina to be a razor-thin victory regardless of who wins it, and both sides are spending money on ads there.
Biden is currently outspending Trump by 2-to-1 overall, and much of that disparity reflects ads the Biden campaign is running on television and online in states such as North Carolina.
On Tuesday, the Trump campaign launched radio ads in 11 “urban” markets, including Charlotte and Raleigh. They feature former NFL player Herschel Walker and Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones, two of Trump’s most high-profile Black supporters.