How do leading voters in the Black Swing State view Kamala Harris? It is complicated

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As a former prosecutor pleads her electoral case, some of America’s most powerful voters deliberate on their verdict.The former prosecutor is Kamala Harris, who addressed the Democratic convention on Wednesday night in her bid to become the first African American woman and first vice president.

Voters: Members of Milwaukee’s large black community.

If Harris’ prominence on a presidential ticket has the power to make a difference anywhere in this election, it’s here in Wisconsin’s largest city.

That’s because this state is the quintessential example, Exhibit A if you will, of how a small change in turnout can make or break Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump won four years ago in that state by just 0.7 percentage point, as youth turnout plummeted and blacks fell. nose dive. In Milwaukee, nearly 40% of the residents are black and the city is highly segregated.

American swing state voters hold a degree of power that shapes history this year if a glaring prediction from Barack Obama turns out to be at an exact distance.

Former US President Barack Obama delivered his speech at the Democratic National Convention ahead of an exhibit of the US Constitution in Philadelphia on Wednesday. He warned that Donald Trump’s re-election posed an existential threat to the republic. (Democratic National Convention / The Associated Press)

In his convention speech, austere and striking for a former US president, Obama warned that this election could decide the fate of American democracy itself. He argued that Trump’s attacks on the press and electoral institutions, and that his use of the military as “political props” posed an existential threat to the republic.

  • READ | The transcription of Barack Obama’s full speech to the DNC

Harris then stepped onto the podium after warm personal testimonies from his family, and his speech was built at the height of the most important political concerns.

Harris described the unusually high death rate of blacks during the COVID-19 pandemic as the result of structural racism: unequal education, health care, housing, job security and transportation.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, left, stands alongside her husband, Douglas Emhoff, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, after accepting the vice presidential nomination Wednesday night at the Chase Center in Wilmington, New York. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

“There is no vaccine against racism,” Harris said.

“We have to do the job. For George Floyd [and] Breonna Taylor, for the lives of too many others. ”

Harris’ appointment has been widely hailed as a political bonus for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, drawing positive reviews and a increase in donations in the countryside.

Currents of doubt

But interviews with black Milwaukee residents this week suggest that a much more complex conversation is unfolding within the black community, particularly in the northern half of a city still largely separated by race.

They reveal an underlying stream of uncertainty.

In short: enthusiasm for an African American woman on the ticket, one with one of the American senators the most progressive ballot records, is tempered by passionate debates on his record.

“It’s divided: some like her and some not,” said Greg Lewis, a pastor who works to transform black voters through his Souls group to the Milwaukee polls.

Lewis said Harris’ critics use epithets such as “Uncle Tom” or “sellout” because in her roles as district attorney in San Francisco and as attorney general in California, she mainly prosecuted black people.

“She has to get over that,” he says.

Greg Lewis, a pastor seen here wearing protective gloves during the pandemic, said he heard epithets and smears directed at Harris. (Alex Panetta / CBC)

There is even disinformation spreading online about his ethnicity, he said.

There are lies about her birth certificate, falsely claiming that this shows that she is “Caucasian,” because that is the race he lists for Harris’ Indian mother.

Rhonda Hill described a generational divide.

Older voters, she said, tend to be more excited about Harris’ barrier-crossing potential. ” [They’re like] “OK, an African American woman,” said Hill, who runs an anti-racism consultancy, Race and faith.

“But for people my age – I’m 40 – and younger it’s kind of like, ‘OK, are we still playing this game?’ Being black is not enough. Your period is important. How do you speak for those most deprived of their rights [matters]. «

Three similar points continued to crop up in the conversation. And these points are supported by the available data on public opinion.

One: Harris expects turnout to increase

Almost everyone interviewed said having Harris on the ticket would likely mean increased enthusiasm and turnout for Democrats.

This is supported by polls showing higher approval ratings for her that the three men on the big party tickets; majority support for his appointment; and a similar number who consider her qualified to be President.

“She does it 100% [drive turnout]”Said Tejean Neal, 19, a student at the University of Wisconsin.” I also think that’s why Joe Biden chose her. He draws the black vote for him. “

Tejean Neal believes Harris will increase black participation. Not that he’s a fan. (Alex Panetta / CBC News)

Neal himself has deep reservations – about Harris and Biden. He prefers more left-wing politicians such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Yet he still votes Democratic because he calls it his civic duty as an American citizen to remove Trump from office.

Milwaukee president of the municipal council said he was also confident that participation will increase in the city’s African-American community.

“For her … to step into that role as a story maker, I think it also excites people in Milwaukee and other places across the country with communities of color,” Cavalier Johnson said in an interview at her office. of town hall.

Two: the effect will be modest

Few would expect Harris to make an Obama-level impact on his own. African-American participation broke records in the first black president’s two presidential races.

Even at the lowest points under his presidency, Obama’s approval ratings among the black community existed in their own orbit, near or above 90%.

“He’s like Nelson Mandela or [Martin Luther King Jr.] – people have that kind of respect for him, ”said Neal standing at the counter of the cafe where he works.

Neal cites ingrained sexism as one of the reasons for the weaker support for Harris: “She’s a woman.”

But he also attributes it to a more skeptical and demanding electorate. Neal’s workplace reminds us that the Obama era did not solve historical problems.

Watch | Kamala Harris opening remarks at the Democratic National Convention:

Presumptive Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris had a message for Americans ahead of the night’s event. 1:17

The coffee is in a business park – the one built from the wreckage of a burnt building riots in 2016, in front of a police station.

He said African Americans already had a black president and had limited expectations of the difference a black vice president would make.

Harris’ approval ratings clearly exist on a deadlier level than Obama’s.

Two surveys conducted for CNN and The Economist both show strong but not astronomical support for Harris – ranging from 44 to 48 percent among self-identified black voters and “people of color,” and disapproval ranging from 21 to 28 percent.

When asked how it might affect black turnout, Hill replied, “My honest answer: I don’t know. “

Three: the record is controversial

Progressives criticize Harris’ vacillating position on Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. And for her, such hesitant messages on law enforcement.

Two books her wrote, a decade a part, reflect radically different attitudes towards policing that follow changing political winds.

The first one, Smart about crime, praises the police and says they make black communities safer and calls the idea that black people oppose the police a myth.

The book also calls for more police on the streets.

It was years before the cutting of police funding became a widely known rallying cry of the progressive left.

Rhonda Hill, an anti-racist educator, preferred candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang to Harris and Biden. (Rhonda Hill)

A devastating moment that damaged Harris’ presidential run in 2020 was when a rival accused her of a hypocritical rocker on marijuana – from continuing pot possession to now joking about smoking it.

Harris on Wednesday night sought to reframe the story of his time as a California attorney and attorney general.

She introduced herself as a defender of the little guy and an attorney for the powerful, citing transnational gangs, rapists, big banks and a for-profit college as examples of the latter.

At the coffee bar on Wednesday, Neal insisted she didn’t win her vote.

“She’s going to help Joe Biden gain the black vote, [but] I don’t think black people should be behind her. Because she was not behind the blacks, ”he said.

Once again, he said he would ultimately vote for her, throwing his very first presidential poll, simply in the hope of ousting Trump.

Cavalier Johnson, the chairman of Milwaukee City Council, said he was confident more people would come forward for Harris. (Alex Panetta / CBC News)

Hill said she wants her community to aim higher than just beating Trump. She described the outgoing president as just a baseline, a floor, not a respectable standard for comparison with anyone.

She said white progressives seemed more enthusiastic about Harris than she was, and recounted a recent conversation with a friend: “She’s jizzed, pumped, and happy, about Kamala Harris. ”

And she paused to reflect on the fact that the aspiring first black woman, vice president, does not have the full support of black people.

“Not everyone is 100 percent. And I think that’s okay, because we’re not monolithic, ”Hill said.

“We have different opinions and opinions, and we are allowed to have that. “

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