HBCUs Become the Focus of Biden / Trump Campaigns
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Posted By: Will Moss on October 25, 2020 |
By Joshua Jamerson
In the final stretch of the campaign, both President Trump and Joe Biden are highlighting relationships with historically Black colleges and universities, as the former vice president seeks to shore up support among a key Democratic constituency and Mr. Trump tries to make inroads.
The nation’s roughly 100 HBCUs represent about 3% of all U.S. colleges and universities, but they produce roughly 20% of all Black graduates, according to the United Negro College Fund, a Washington-based national group that supports HBCUs. Both parties see touting connections to the schools as a way to reach a significant slice of the Black electorate through their sprawling alumni networks, hundreds of thousands of current students and family members.
Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has ramped up his outreach to HBCU students in the closing days of the race in hopes of energizing a segment of what is perhaps his party’s most important voting bloc. Democrats have raised concerns this year about turnout among young Black men in particular, after polls this year showed their support for Mr. Biden was weaker than Hillary Clinton earned four years ago. Some in the party believe that could matter if the election, as in 2016, comes down to slim margins in a handful of states.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has highlighted that HBCUs secured increased federal funding during his presidency. The president, who had the support of about 7% of Black Americans in Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls this year, isn’t expected to win this group in November.
But his campaign has made a more concerted effort to court Black Americans than it did in 2016. Mr. Trump has focused on efforts by his administration to help Black families as he tries to increase his support, such as new tax incentives for investments in low-income neighborhoods; the bipartisan criminal-justice legislation he signed into law, under which thousands of federal inmates have qualified for release; and millions of dollars in new funding he has signed into law for HBCUs.
“I saved historically Black colleges and universities,” Mr. Trump said during Thursday’s presidential debate in Nashville, Tenn.
Since 2017, bipartisan majorities in Congress have increased federal appropriations to HBCUs by $200 million, according to the United Negro College Fund. About $80 million of that was due to year-over-year increases to a pool of funds reserved for HBCUs, which advocates view as the lifeblood of the institutions.
Democrats said Mr. Trump deserves some credit for that, but not as much as he takes. “I don’t give him any more credit than he’s due,” said Rep. Alma Adams (D., N.C.), who founded the congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus in 2015 and sponsored legislation increasing funding. “He did sign the bill, we appreciate that.”
Mr. Biden is calling for a $70 billion federal investment in HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, including $18 billion in grants to four-year schools. He has proposed the cancellation of all tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities, and private HBCUs, for debtholders earning up to $125,000. The Democrats are also calling for public colleges and universities, as well as private HBCUs, to be tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000.
Mr. Trump hasn’t campaigned on future HBCU initiatives and instead is pitching voters on his record with the schools. Many Black Republicans give Mr. Trump credit for trying to expand the party’s appeal. Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.), an HBCU advocate, urged Black Americans to give more weight to bipartisan legislative accomplishments than Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.
“We should not stereotype Republicans as people who do not support the agenda that is important to us when, in fact, the past four years show the exact opposite,” Mr.
The former vice president’s campaign spent the past week hosting about half a dozen virtual events as part of a series of online gatherings meant to mimic on-campus homecoming festivities, culminating with a virtual rally Friday with several Hollywood stars. Through Election Day, the Biden campaign is hosting phone banks and virtual meetings geared toward HBCU students, including a virtual-event series for young Black men.
Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris, an alumna of Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the first Black woman to join a major party’s White House ticket, has visited HBCUs in the battleground states of North Carolina and Florida. On Friday in Atlanta, she talked to a group of HBCU students, urging them to vote early to thwart any attempts at voter suppression. “They know your power,” Ms. Harris said. “They know our power.”
President Trump with representatives of historically Black colleges and universities at the White House in 2017.
Photo: Aude Guerrucci/Press Pool/Getty Images
Mr. Trump’s campaign hasn’t announced that he will headline any HBCU-specific events for the final stretch of the campaign, though in September he hosted a rally focused on Black voters in Atlanta, where he again made note of higher federal funding for the schools.
Some leaders of HBCUs say they are backing Mr. Biden this fall, and at least one is campaigning for him and other Democrats. These university officials say their gains under the Trump administration don’t outweigh what they describe as a pattern of offensive comments on race, a dynamic that they say is a window into the president’s relationship with Black Americans more broadly.
Walter Kimbrough, the president of Dillard University, a private institution in New Orleans that held roughly $160 million in federal loans made after **** Katrina, said the Trump administration forgave the debt after the previous administration didn’t act on it.
“President Trump can beat them over the head with that, because that was something that the Obama administration could have and should’ve done,” he said.
Mr. Kimbrough appeared with Mr. Trump at the White House in 2017 and said he is appreciative of the Trump administration’s support for HBCUs. But Mr. Kimbrough said he can’t vote for Mr. Trump. “He’s a racist. Full stop. To me, it’s not even a question even more,” he said.
Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris spoke at Shaw University during a campaign visit in Raleigh, N.C., in September.
Photo: Gerry Broome/Associated Press
Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied he is a racist. “I got criminal-justice reform done and prison reform and opportunity zones. I took care of black colleges and universities,” Mr. Trump said at the debate Thursday. “I’m the least racist person in this room.”
Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, said voters should contrast the criminal-justice overhaul legislation the president signed with a 1994 crime bill Mr. Biden spearheaded, which led to disproportionately high incarceration rates among Black Americans. “For decades, Democrats had made empty promises to the Black community and reaped the benefits of the Black vote without delivering on their words,” Ms. Pierson said.
Much of the Biden campaign’s HBCU outreach comes down to mobilizing students to vote. Rick Hart, a student at Morehouse College who is a member of HBCU Students for Biden, hosted an Instagram Live chat last month with Reginae Carter, the daughter of the rapper Lil Wayne. Thousands watched the live stream.
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