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These Black women vow to vote for Biden — but Harris excites them more

NEW ORLEANS — April Sheris plans to vote for Joe Biden in November. Her two college-age daughters, Camari Knox and Amiaya Bridgewater, both voting in their first presidential election, will be, too, as will her mother, Diamond Ryan. The three generations of Black women vigorously oppose Donald Trump’s bid for a second term in the White House and feel all Democrats have a duty to cast their votes to stop him.

But as the women, who are from Santa Fe, N.M., made their way into the Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans this weekend, all four shared varying levels of enthusiasm for Biden amid growing questions about his age and stamina that have led some Democrats to suggest the 81-year-old president should drop out of the race and allow someone else to run.

Vice President Harris, who made her own appearance at Essence Fest Saturday, is among those most frequently mentioned as a replacement — a prospect that makes Sheris, 41, and her daughters light up.

“Obviously, I support them both. I probably would be more excited if she was at the top of the ticket,” Sheris said. Both Bridgewater, 18, and Knox, 20, nodded in agreement.

But while Ryan, 61, praised Harris and said she would be thrilled at the prospect of a Black female president, she worried that a change to the ticket four months out from Election Day might be too risky.

“How many voters will actually support Kamala?” she asked.

Those anxieties were shared by some of the tens of thousands of Black women from across the country who descended on New Orleans for this massive annual gathering celebrating Black culture. Black women have long been the Democratic Party’s most dedicated and reliable voting bloc — and they will likely be key to deciding the winner of the 2024 election.

Polls consistently have shown Biden losing some ground to Trump among Black voters since the 2020 election. Maximizing support among Black voters and ensuring they cast ballots will be essential for Biden to win, or for Harris should she replace him as the presidential nominee.

In a series of interviews, more than a dozen Black female voters, young and old, expressed growing fear that Trump could retake the White House. They said they still support Biden despite his shaky and halting debate performance late last month, which has prompted party-wide concern and fueled calls for him to step aside.

But several admitted they would be more enthusiastic if Harris were atop the ticket, describing her as a fresh face who could appeal to newer generations of voters and potentially make history as the nation’s first Black and Asian American female president.

Harris drew rapturous applause from hundreds of Black women during her appearance Saturday — though she was not asked about, nor did she mention, the controversy swirling around Biden and his future on the ticket or what that might mean for her. Instead, she explained why this is “the most significant election of our lifetime” and why Trump cannot be reelected.

Still, even as women said they like Harris and believe her capable of the presidency, some also said they fear racist and sexist vitriol could upend her campaign and possibly lead to a second Trump term.

“People have a hard enough time respecting Black people, and they have a hard time respecting Black women,” said Alexandria Henderson, 22, from Denver. “I would love for her to win, but I’m just scared that our nation isn’t ready yet.”

But even as they acknowledged that a Harris-led ticket was sure to spark ugly attacks from Trump and his allies, who have already stepped up their targeting of Harris, many expressed frustration that the question of whether a Black woman could win the presidency was a part of the discussion at all.

“Black women are top entrepreneurs. They are leading in education and in the economy. So I don’t think ‘Can a Black woman be president?’ should be the question,” said Lydia Myers, 42, a communications specialist from Washington, D.C. “The question is whether she’s capable of running the country. Is she qualified?”

In Myers’s view, Harris is “absolutely” qualified and “a better choice than Biden’s Republican counterpart.”

The turmoil engulfing the Democratic Party comes at a moment when party officials were already anxious about turnout among Black voters, especially Black women.

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll conducted in April of more than 1,300 Black adults found that 62 percent of Black Americans said they were “absolutely certain to vote” — down from 74 percent in June 2020.

One of the steepest drops in enthusiasm was among Black women, who fueled Biden’s ascent to the White House four years ago. According to the poll, 61 percent of Black women said they were “absolutely certain to vote” in 2024 — compared with 80 percent in June 2020. The numbers were more dire among Black women ages 18 to 39, where certainty to vote went from 69 percent in 2020 to 39 percent this year, according to the poll.

That generational divide was clear at Essence Fest. Many older voters reaffirmed their support for Biden and defended his debate performance as a bad day that did not reflect the strength of his candidacy. But many younger women expressed a desire to see someone else on the ticket, even as they said they would vote for Biden if he remained in the race.

“I am a Democrat, and I’m faithful, and I believe 100 percent in Biden,” said Holley Murphy, 57, from Augusta, Ga. “We do have some concerns, and we know things are up in the air right now, but I was always told you go with the person who can win, and I still think Biden is our best pick.”

Several women at the festival acknowledged they felt less passionately about voting for Biden now than they did four years ago, when the country was amid a deep reckoning over race and policing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

Now, the economy feels precarious; rent and costs for things like groceries have gone way up. ShaQuayla Henderson, 33, from Dallas, was raised to believe that Democrats were for low-income people, but sometimes she doesn’t know if she believes that anymore. Biden has done some things she likes — like canceling student loan debt — but she struggled to name any other policies that she is enthusiastic about.

“We’re not for Trump,” Henderson insisted, standing with her sister. But she isn’t happy with Biden, either — an unease that existed well before the debate. But she doesn’t know who could successfully replace him at this point.

She longs for a hopeful figure like Barack Obama — and she isn’t sure Harris is that person. “I will say, four years ago, Black people were for her because she looked like us,” Henderson said. But she has been surprised by Harris’s low profile in the administration. “At this point, it’s like, what are you doing in office to show us that you are for us?” she said.

Across the festival, some attendees visibly cringed when asked how they felt about the 2024 presidential campaign.

Tijuana Richardson, 54, from Houston, said the debate was a “hard one” to watch, recalling how she felt herself “cringing” at Biden’s struggles and wanting to leap from her couch through the television to help him.

She remembered how Biden had run in 2020, presenting himself as a calm, steady force who could undo the chaos of the Trump presidency. She worries that lingering questions over Biden’s health undermine public confidence and risk reopening the door to Trump and the daily stress she felt during his presidency about his chaotic approach to governing.

“If he remains in the election, it’s going to be a hard election,” Richardson said of Biden. She pushed back against Democrats who have suggested Harris cannot defeat Trump. “She is capable. She is qualified,” she said. “Biden would not have picked her if she wasn’t.”

Harris took the stage on Saturday evening to Beyonce’s “Freedom” for a “Chief to Chief” conversation with Caroline A. Wanga, the president and CEO of Essence. Although Harris didn’t mention the calls for Biden to step aside, the appearance illustrated many of her strengths in this moment.

Though Biden mostly reads short speeches off a teleprompter, Harris answered questions for 25 minutes. Though Biden looked pale and frail during the debate, Harris was loose and energetic, frequently smiling and making eye contact with a friendly crowd as she emphasized elements of her own biography. Though Biden has struggled to articulate the case against Trump, Harris did so with the precision and sharpness of a practiced prosecutor.

Asked to introduce herself, Harris smiled and simply said: “The vice president of the United States of America.”

After the laughter and applause died down, she continued: “And I am a wife, and we have children. I am a godmommy. I am an auntie. I am a best friend. I am a good cook. … And I am a fighter for the people. I care about the people.”

Harris delivered a vigorous pitch on the Biden administration’s achievements for Black Americans, including efforts to improve Black maternal health, lower the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs, cancel billions of dollars in student debt and confront housing costs and shortages.

She acknowledged that politicians say every election is the most important but insisted that 2024 really is “the most significant election of our lifetime.” She spoke of Trump’s praise for dictators, his promises of revenge against his political enemies, and last week’s Supreme Court decision opening the door to wider presidential immunity. She pointed to his support for the rollback of Roe v. Wade, saying he is proud “of the fact our daughters will have fewer rights than their grandmothers.”

At a time when some voters think both presumptive nominees are too old and out of touch, Harris spoke in personal terms about the challenges she has faced as an ambitious woman of color.

“People in your life will tell you: ‘It’s not your time. It’s not your turn. Nobody like you has done it before,’” Harris said. “Don’t you ever listen to that.”

In the audience, an older woman shouted, “YES!”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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