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Black voters key in Trump-Biden’s Midwestern duel

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Aug 20, 2020 - 09:21 AM

MILWAUKEE — Oscar Walton is an African American in the must-win state of Wisconsin who sat out the 2016 election because he felt neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump spoke for him.

But not this November, when black voters like him in Wisconsin’s biggest city Milwaukee could play a key role in whether Joe Biden denies Trump a second term in office.

Milwaukee’s 2016 turnout plunged by some 40,000 — in a city of only about 600,000 — over the number of votes cast when Barack Obama was running for re-election in 2012.

Trump won by a mere 25,000 ballots in Wisconsin, one of several reliably Democratic Midwestern states that he captured on his way to winning the White House.

“I’m going to vote in this election,” Walton, 28, said standing in a Milwaukee park as the Democrats were about to kick off a subdued online-only convention a short distance away.

“I honestly feel that we need to get Trump out of office,” said the social worker and musician.

Unlike some of the rural corners of Wisconsin, Milwaukee has a population that is 40 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic.

Both are communities heavily concerned with the dual crises gripping the nation: the coronavirus pandemic and economic disaster, which has disproportionately hit minorities, as well as the groundswell of protests against police violence.

Walton is not inspired by 77-year-old Biden, a career politician, rather he is voting against Trump.

“The bottom line for me? I mean he’s a systemic racist. Point blank period,” he said. “A man like that has no business… running the country”.

The context of 2020 is very different from 2016, which points to a very different outcome for Trump, said David Bowen, a Democratic state assembly member.

“I think there’s a contingent of folks that are now realizing how much value their vote has,” Bowen, 33, said.

“There’s a big group of folks out right now… trying to figure out how do I hold the system accountable with my vote.”

‘Black Voices for Trump’ 

Some members of Milwaukee’s black community have already decided who that will be: Trump.

Khenzer Senat runs the first Republican campaign office, opened this winter, in Milwaukee’s historically black Bronzeville neighborhood.

“This President has actually done more for the black community, I believe, than any other president in at least my recollection,” the 30-year-old said in the office, which is adorned with “Black Voices for Trump” signs.

When speaking to residents, Senat puts forward what he believes is a key flaw in Biden’s appeal for the community: the disproportionate number of black people behind bars.

He says that Biden supported legislation in the 1990s that contributed to “mass incarceration” of African Americans, and that running mate Kamala Harris has been no better.

Harris, a senator from California, is the first woman of color on a major party presidential ticket, but she has faced questions for backing law enforcement policies criticized in minority communities.

“African Americans usually are the ones that are voting for Democrats and nothing is changing, especially here in Milwaukee,” Senat added.

But those appeals do not find much traction among locals like Baboonie Tatum, who co-owns coffee shop “Rise and Grind”.

Her shop is in Sherman Phoenix, a commercial gallery for black small business owners which was conceived after 2016 riots against police violence.

“I’m happy about the VP pick,” the 43-year-old mother of two daughters said. “We’ve had an African American president. We’re making history again.”

“I know everybody’s skeptical about her past, what she did as a prosecutor, but people evolve,” she added.

“So as long as she sticks to her agenda and what she’s going to do for the people, I’m okay.”

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