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The Trump Campaign Is Back On The Ground To Woo African American Voters

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right. This news about Kamala Harris being tapped as Joe Biden's running mate comes as President Trump has been trying to make the case that his presidency is a boon for Black Americans. That was always going to be a difficult case to make. Then the coronavirus put his campaign's outreach on hold. Now in critical cities, including Milwaukee, field offices are back up and running. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe reports on whether the message is connecting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I've done more for African Americans than any president with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, and that's true. I've passed...

I did more for the Black community than anybody with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.

With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, nobody has even been close.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Despite President Trump's bragging, Black voters still overwhelmingly back his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. And that's not surprising for a Republican president. Still, according to a CNN analysis, Trump is doing slightly better with African American voters than he did in polls ahead of the 2016 election.

After a hiatus due to the coronavirus, the Trump campaign is back on the ground in Milwaukee and other key cities with large African American communities. In a tight election, squeezing out a few more votes for Trump could make a difference. Paris Dennard is a senior adviser on Black media for the Republican National Committee.

PARIS DENNARD: Because of the restrictions and the things that we have to abide by, we've had to sort of change our engagement.

RASCOE: Back in late February, just before the pandemic shut down the country, the campaign held a panel discussion in their storefront field office in North Milwaukee with speakers flown in from around the country. About 50 people attended. Dennard says where local health regulations allow, the party is once again holding in-person events. In recent weeks, the Milwaukee office has hosted a cookout and a movie night screening a documentary about Black conservatives. The campaign wants to combat what they view as unfair media coverage, says senior campaign adviser Katrina Pierson.

KATRINA PIERSON: We knew we could not depend on the mainstream press to tell Americans exactly what this president is doing and has done for them.

RASCOE: But one of the campaign's key talking points, low Black unemployment, no longer exists thanks to the coronavirus. And polls show that most Americans of all races believe that Trump increased racial tensions after protests about the killing of George Floyd. Orlando Owens is a Black Republican running for the Wisconsin State Legislature, representing part of Milwaukee. The seat's been held by Democrats for decades. Owens says he's been knocking on doors making the case for his own campaign. But President Trump does come up and not necessarily in a good way.

ORLANDO OWENS: I see some who like President Trump. I see a lot more that question his moves.

RASCOE: He says he never bashes Trump, and he focuses on what he could do for his district. Some people do ask him, do they have to vote for Trump if they vote for him?

OWENS: I say, listen; you do whatever you think you need to do on a presidential level. But you can - you don't have to vote straight party. You can vote for each individual race, and people smile.

RASCOE: Back in February, Quinn Taylor was one of the Milwaukee residents who attended the Trump campaign panel discussion. Taylor, who is African American, says he's still open to voting for Trump, but he wants him to be more serious and presidential.

QUINN TAYLOR: The typical Trump - speak too fast, not prepared for a question and just talk. So you know, you get - you don't always get the president answer; you get the Trump answer.

RASCOE: Taylor says he also wants to see the field office do more to help the community. RNC adviser Dennard acknowledged that the campaign has more work to do to make sure its connections have lasting impact. Even though Taylor attended a campaign event, he says they haven't contacted him other than generic emails. And that movie night the office held, Taylor says he would have attended, but he never heard about it.

Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF POTATOHEAD PEOPLE'S "NO SLEEP TIL MTL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.