Joe Biden is spending the final days of the presidential campaign appealing to Black supporters to vote in-person during a pandemic that has disproportionally affected their communities, betting that a strong turnout will boost his chances in states that could decide the election.

Biden was in Philadelphia on Sunday, the largest city in what is emerging as the most hotly contested battleground in the closing 48 hours of the campaign. He planned to participate in a “souls to the polls” event that is part of a nationwide effort to organize Black churchgoers to vote.

His running mate, Kamala Harris, was in Georgia, a longtime Republican stronghold that Democrats believe could flip if Black voters show up in force. The first Black woman on a major party’s presidential ticket, she encouraged a racially diverse crowd in a rapidly growing Atlanta suburb to “honor the ancestors” by voting, invoking the memory of the late civil rights legend, longtime Rep. John Lewis.

President Donald Trump is aiming to blunt the effort by arguing that Biden and other Democrats have taken the support of Black voters for granted.

“Show Joe Biden and the Democrat Party what you think of their decades of betrayal and abuse,” Trump told supporters on Sunday at a rally north of Detroit.

With more than 91 million votes already cast, Trump and Biden are out of time to reshape the race. Instead, they’re focusing on their base and making sure that any potential supporters have either already voted or plan to do so in person on Tuesday.

For Biden, that means paying close attention to Black voters who are a critical part of the coalition he needs to build to win. His campaign’s final burst of travel was tailored to boost that support: After Philadelphia, he was to be in Cleveland and Pittsburgh on Monday. And after stops with Biden in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, on Saturday, former President Barack Obama heads to Georgia on Monday.

When the pandemic reached America, Democrats spent months pushing their supporters to vote by mail. But their energy has shifted to urge Black supporters who have long preferred to vote in person or distrust voting by mail to get out on Tuesday. Biden’s campaign has tried to reverse the drop in Black turnout from 2012 to 2016 — with decreases in cities such as Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Philadelphia — that contributed to Trump’s upset against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

A Biden path toward victory must include Black majority cities, including Philadelphia and Detroit, which will be crucial in determining the outcome in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Those are states where both candidates have spent a significant amount of time in the final days of the 2020 election.

“The historical but also cultural reality for our community is that Election Day represents a collective political act and it’s a continuation of our struggle for full citizenship in this country,” said Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC. “Black voters are showing up in ways that they did not in 2016 and we can take heart in that.”

In Detroit, officials are projecting a 50% voter turnout, which would be higher than 2016, yet lower than 2008 and 2016 when Obama’s candidacy drew record voter participation. Grassroots organizers in the Philadelphia area have spent months engaging potential voters, many of whom they expect will be casting ballots for the first time on Election Day.

“Most Black voters in Philly have been skeptical of mail-in voting,” said Joe Hill, a veteran Democratic operative-turned-lobbyist from the city. “A lot of us have gotten our ballots already,” Hill said, but added, “Election Day has always been everything in Philadelphia.”

Healthcare Pennsylvania, a local union chapter of the Service Employees International Union, is working to increase turnout by at least 10,000 in west Philadelphia and spent Sunday knocking on more than 600 doors. West Philadelphia has a majority Black population and has experienced firsthand the convergence of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black Americans and protests in recent days against police brutality, mirroring what’s occurred nationwide.

Biden also draws a sharp contrast to Trump through a summer of unrest over the police killings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minneapolis. Their deaths sparked the largest protest movement since the civil rights era. Biden responded by acknowledging the systemic racism that pervades American life, while Trump emphasized his support of police and pivoted to a “law and order” message that resonated with his base but did little to broaden his appeal.

Four years ago, Trump made his pitch to voters of color by bellowing “What have you got to lose?” in supporting the Republican candidate and aides have pointed to pre-pandemic economic gains by people of color.

He only won 8% of the Black vote, but Clinton’s margin fell seven percentage points from Obama’s in 2012, according to Pew Research Center.

There’s little chance that Trump will win many more Black voters this year. His primary strategy has been to erode Biden’s support with a barrage of negative advertisements.

One replays Biden’s eyebrow-raising “you ain’t Black” comment, in which the former vice president questioned how African Americans could support Trump. Another uses the Democrat’s own past words in support of the 1994 crime bill against him. The bill, which Biden helped write, led to stiffer prison sentences that disproportionately incarcerated Black men.

Trump, in a tweet Sunday, claimed that Biden called young Black man “superpredators” — which he did not do, though he used the term “predators” in a 1993 floor speech to describe criminals.

Biden, who has a massive cash advantage over Trump, has flooded the airwaves with uplifting ads that prominently feature African Americans. One minute-long spot detailing Biden’s proposals to help Black people begins with Biden explicitly stating, “Black lives matter. Period. I’m not afraid to say it.”

A supporter watches as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama speak at a rally at Belle Isle Casino in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)
A supporter watches as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama speak at a rally at Belle Isle Casino in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)

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