Catherine Lucey and Alex Leary, Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has complicated President Trump’s plan to attract more black voters, as the virus is hitting minority communities disproportionately hard, while draining years of economic gains and forcing political campaigns online.
The president’s re-election message to black voters had relied heavily on a low unemployment rate and campaign outreach, including plans for neighborhood storefront offices. Now with the nation under lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, Mr. Trump’s campaign is reaching out via phone, online and on video and emphasizing the administration’s pandemic response and record on issues like criminal justice reform.
Polls long have shown the president to be unpopular with black voters, and he now is facing criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for his handling of the pandemic and the challenges some minority business owners have had with the small-business-loan program. Democrats argue those frustrations will bolster their party’s presumptive nominee Joe Biden, who already has strong African-American support.
Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson said the campaign understands the impact coronavirus has had on the black community and it is making the case that the president is working hard for all Americans. She said that the pandemic doesn’t make their pitch to black voters any harder.
“I would say that our engagement has shifted a little, but I wouldn’t say it’s hurting to the point where we’re losing ground,” she said of remote campaigning. “This president has a record that we are happy to tout, to prove to them that President Trump has been with them from the beginning.”
Mr. Trump acknowledged that minorities have been harder hit by the virus during a town hall on Fox News Sunday night.
Though the president’s re-election strategy has focused largely on his base, advisers saw an opportunity with black voters heading into 2020. The campaign also sees room to grow with Hispanics, and the coronavirus challenges that strategy for similar health and economic reasons in some of the battleground states, such as Florida.
Mr. Trump won just 8% of the African-American vote in 2016. He remains unpopular with most black voters, polls show, but even a slight improvement could prove significant given the expectation of close state-by-state contests. Because of that, the president’s campaign had been holding “Black Voices for Trump” events and was set to open storefront offices geared toward that demographic in key states, including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, took particular interest in the project, telling reporters in late February that the offices represented “more than a toe in the water. It’s a whole foot in the water.” He said, “You’re never going to get the votes you don’t ask for.”
In an April Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that surveyed some 900 registered voters, 84% of African-Americans disapproved of the job President Trump is doing, up from 81% that disapproved in March. And 70% of African-Americans thought Trump didn’t take the pandemic seriously enough at the beginning and was still not handling it well. Asked to chose between the president and his likely Democratic rival, 7% of that group supported Mr. Trump and 85% Mr. Biden, the poll showed.