Black voters weigh Biden’s influence ahead of South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary

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Charles E. Maxwell is no stranger to the campaign trail that passes through his small barbershop in Charleston, South Carolina. Democrats, eager to appeal to a large share of the state’s black voters, emerge every four years, Maxwell said.

“The barbershop is a black man’s country club. It’s a place we go to where there’s no fee associated with being part of the club,” Maxwell told ABC News as South Carolina’s Democratic primary — scheduled for February 3 — approaches. . “This is a meeting place that everyone can go to and be able to network and relax.”

Unlike a butter cow in Iowa or a crowded diner in New Hampshire, candidates often meet South Carolinians where they are: churches, barber shops and local historically black colleges and universities, Maxwell said.

Photo: President Joe Biden welcomes employees and patrons to Regal Lounge, a men's barbershop and spa, in Columbia, South Carolina, before speaking at the First South Carolina Dinner at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds on January 27, 2024.

President Joe Biden welcomes employees and patrons at Regal Lounge, a men’s barbershop and spa, in Columbia, South Carolina, before speaking at the First South Carolina Dinner at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds on January 27, 2024.

Kent Nishimura/AFP via Getty Images

ABC News spoke with black voters ahead of South Carolina’s Democratic primary — the results of which were all but decided.

After propelling President Joe Biden to the Democratic nomination in 2020, the party elevated South Carolina to the first state to award delegates in the 2024 primary. The Democratic National Committee said the move allows a more racially diverse group of voters to have their voices heard first — especially in comparison With Iowa and New Hampshire being majority white states. The change also came after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2020.

Maxwell said he would like to see Biden win another term — a chance to make good on his promises like student loan forgiveness and continuing to promote better access to health care.

Photo: President Joe Biden visits Regal Lounge, a men's barbershop and spa, in Columbia, South Carolina, before speaking at the First South Carolina Dinner at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds on January 27, 2024.

President Joe Biden visits Regal Lounge, a men’s barbershop and spa, in Columbia, South Carolina, before speaking at the First South Carolina Dinner at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds on January 27, 2024.

Kent Nishimura/AFP via Getty Images

“We need to give him the opportunity to finish the work he started,” Maxwell said. “There are a lot of things we can add and contribute that he has done that are positive within the black community. But there are some other things we would like to see.”

The Biden-Harris campaign claimed that it would not “parachute” into these South Carolina communities, but rather would work hard to “earn” their votes. Biden made five stops in the state during his presidency, including a vacation on Kiawah Island in 2022.

2024 began with two more campaign-related stops.

“I want to start with a very simple message, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” Biden said at a “First in the Nation” dinner hosted by the South Carolina Democratic Party in January. “Donald Trump is a loser and you are the reason we will win and beat him again.”

Biden is competing in the primary ballot in South Carolina with Representative Dean Phillips from Minnesota and author Marianne Williamson.

PHOTO: Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips speaks with people during the South Carolina Democratic Party's First in the Nation celebration and dinner at the state fairgrounds on January 27, 2024 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, talks to people during the South Carolina Democratic Party’s First in the Nation celebration and dinner at the state fairgrounds on January 27, 2024 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

With the incumbent running, the South Carolina Democratic primary is not getting much media attention. Voters told ABC News that’s not ideal, but they will come out to support the president.

“I believe in competition. I think it would be great if we had more, but because we have a candidate with so much experience, who is better than them now?” Juanita Melton of Summerville, South Carolina, told ABC News. “If there had been someone else, they would have come forward. Now, this is the right time for the people we have.”

Biden began his presidency with an average approval rating of 86 percent among Black Americans, higher than any other racial group, according to the 538 polling average. But since early 2023, his approval rating has fallen to 60 percent, his lowest approval rating on record. shooting among black Americans during his presidency, poll averages of 538 show.

Amid low polling rates in the black community, the South Carolina Democratic Party has launched a “We Go First” tour. With about 156 stops, the tour was an opportunity for the Biden campaign — as well as other candidates — to engage this often overlooked community.

Candidates tailored their message to reach black audiences.

Speaking to students at the South Carolina HBCU, Morris College, Phillips shared a story about his grandfather who was saved by two black soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Photo: President Joe Biden takes photos with attendees while attending the Brookland Baptist Banquet Center "Sunday lunch"  In West Columbia, South Carolina, on January 28, 2024.

President Joe Biden takes photos with attendees as he attends Brookland Baptist Banquet Center for Sunday Brunch in West Columbia, South Carolina, on January 28, 2024.

Kent Nishimura/AFP via Getty Images

At the same event, Biden’s replacement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, spoke about the landmark court case Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Newsom, who was born the same year the court’s decision was issued, told the audience that his entire life had been “marked by progress.”

But is it effective? Maxwell said he thinks so.

“When Jesus ministered, he ministered among the people,” Maxwell said. “He did not speak at a level or substance above their heads. He spoke in general terms.” “When you look at what campaign strategists do, they reach people where they are.”

But some voters said they felt more could be done. Angela Douglas of Chester, South Carolina, told ABC News she wishes more attention had been paid to rural voters.

“Often when we talk about black communities, we isolate them from criminal justice, or benefit from them in some way,” Douglas said. “But our issues are much bigger than that.” “We are not a monolith. We also have broad problems. So [Biden] “You have done a lot, but there is still a long way to go.”

About 40,000 votes have already been cast during early voting, according to the South Carolina Democratic Party. Historically, turnout in primaries has been much lower than on Election Day in November. In 2020, turnout in the Democratic primary was only about 16%, but South Carolina Democratic Party officials say they are still hoping for a high turnout.

South Carolina’s “first” status is not guaranteed in 2028, according to the Democratic National Committee, so state Democratic Party leaders said they want to make sure voters’ voices are heard.

This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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