Why these Black voters won’t give up on Joe Biden

Depending on who you ask, last week’s presidential debate was the unofficial end of President Joe Biden’s campaign for reelection or a new beginning.

On one side, major editorial pages and politicos called for the president to step aside after a high-stakes debate during which he lost his train of thought at crucial moments and struggled to respond effectively to the onslaught of lies from former President Donald Trump.  

At a time when Biden, 81, needed to convey physical strength and mental sharpness to fight back against polling in which respondents frequently cite his age as a concern, he failed to meet a low bar of a solid performance.

Biden’s campaign stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, just a day after the debate showed what seemed like a totally different candidate from the one at Thursday night’s debate – clear, passionate and highly self-aware.

“I know I’m not a young man, to state the obvious,  I don’t walk as easy as I used to,” Biden told the cheering crowd.  “I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to. But I know what I do know: I know how to tell the truth.” 

It’s this version of the president that his strongest supporters say is the real Biden.

It’s why they are sticking beside him, among other reasons, citing either the impracticality of selecting a new nominee just four months from a national election or their genuine belief that Biden is the best man for the job.

TheGrio spoke with a range of Black voters who are still voicing support for Biden despite criticisms of the debate.  Here are their different motivations for backing President Biden for reelection:

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – JUNE 28: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at a post-debate campaign rally on June 28, 2024 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Last night President Biden and Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump faced off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 campaign. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

His debate performance wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be.

For Dan Smith, an attorney from New Jersey who is in his mid-60s, Biden’s debate performance wasn’t as poor as some pundits would have you believe.

“I was not offended by his presentation. I was more concerned about the substance of the issues that he was addressing,” Smith tells theGrio.

“He responded to each question that was posed to him by the moderators. He had a clear path that he wants to pursue in his upcoming administration.

Smith says in contrast, it was Trump who performed poorly.

“Mr. Trump wasn’t prepared. He did not have a plan… He did not respond to the questions that were posed… He just ate up time without delivering the goods.”

Dr. Mark E. Whitlock of Reid Temple AME Church says President Biden shouldn’t be judged by one debate performance, but instead by his larger policy accomplishments.
(Photo courtesy of

Dr. Mark E. Whitlock, 70, pastor of Reid Temple AME Church in Maryland, agreed that many comparisons of Trump and Biden didn’t take into account the full picture.

President Biden started off slow, but he was truthful,” Whitlock tells theGrio. “I did not understand, and I still don’t understand, how a man with 34 felonies can speak so openly on national television…And propose to lead our country when African-Americans are denied jobs because of a criminal background. Denied entrance into college. Denied entrance into the military. Denied credit if we just have a blemish on our record.

I’m appalled with some Democrats that would dare to throw away a man that’s given his life to helping poor people, the lost, the underserved in our country,” he said. “But the Republican Party is not willing to throw away a man that’s got 34 felonies and lies openly and mistakes facts.”

One debate performance doesn’t erase 3.5 years of accomplishments.

“I think people are saying they’re sticking with him, they’re looking at his record and not just his rhetoric. That’s really important,” says Quentin James, 36, a father of two and co-founder of the Black political action committee Collective PAC.

James had more than $30,000 worth of student loans forgiven by Biden’s programs, making him one of the nearly 4.3 million Americans who were impacted by the president’s policies.

The loan forgiveness, James said, made him feel “invested in,” and is a sign of a larger commitment by the Democratic Party to help everyday people. He noted Biden’s efforts to cap the price of insulin, limit bank penalty fees, financially support HBCUs, and his appointment of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the Supreme Court of the United States.

James also notes that the Biden-Harris administration has worked around stalled progress in Congress, and even defectors in their own party, such as Joe Manchin, who helped block legislation that Biden proposed.

Quentin James, co-founder of The Collective PAC says President Biden’s policies have eased his student loan burdens and helped many.

“I’m trying to give them the actual power to achieve their agenda,” James tells theGrio. “Because they’ve been doing a lot of this through executive action over the past few years, not actually through Congress. And so we got to give Joe Biden and Kamala Harris a fair shot, which means we got to show up and vote, for folks all around the country this, this November.”

For Daryl Crosby, 62, a retired fire chief in California, Biden’s debate performance was disappointing and he said he wished the president would take more proactive steps on immigration issues. Still, he sees Biden’s strengths most on the world stage — an opinion backed by data from the Pew Research Center, which shows that other countries rank Biden higher than Trump when asked about their confidence in the candidates.

Crosby tells theGrio he’s “most satisfied” with Biden’s diplomacy. “I think that he’s inclusive..that he tries to bring ethnicities, genders, different socioeconomic, different religious groups together. I think he stands for the American dream that everyone should have an opportunity as it pertains to some of his federal programs supporting poor families. I like that he recognizes climate is changing and he’s doing all that he can do to support our climate, not just for today, but to think about future generations.

Daryl Crosby, a retired fire chief who lives in California says he still sees strengths in President Biden. (Photo courtesy of Darryl Crosby).

Picking a new nominee right now is too risky – and too late.

The president’s strengths and weaknesses aside, Black voters like Crosby also cite practicality about their choice this fall and to them, replacing the nominee doesn’t seem wise.

I understand why people are saying that,” Crosby tells theGrio of those who want a different Democratic candidate. “But I think we’re beyond that point now. I think it would be way too disruptive to try to figure out who would replace President Biden at this point.”

“I just think that we just need to ride it out with President Biden. And even with his poor performance, It didn’t push me to want to support President Trump,” he continued. 

“The Democratic Party itself and all Democrats need to rally around their candidate. It’s important to really articulate what the party stands for and what they’ve accomplished and what they plan to do the next four years,” he says.

Nakia Durham, a 36-year-old independent writer and producer in Georgia, is deeply concerned about protecting women’s reproductive rights and managing student loan debt. She admits that watching Biden debate Trump was disappointing, mostly because of the missed opportunities to state his wins.

Nakia Durham lives in Georgia and says she will support President Biden to protect reproductive rights for women and see student loan forgiveness prioritized. She wants Democrats to engage voters beyond the presidential election. (Photo courtesy of Nakia Durham)

There were times, she says, I felt our current president could have really drove home some important facts with the actual truth. I’m like, ‘hey, you could have said a different answer here that would have been accurate.’ That was the frustration — You’ve got it [Biden]. You’ve got plenty of policy; all of these Congress people and all of these lawmakers and policymakers who are working tirelessly to help you win.”

Despite the missed moment, Durham’s feelings about trying to replace the nominee are clear.

“I don’t think that’s the solution because if Biden steps down, then who do we have?” Durham says. “I’m not in a place to have lost complete faith in President Biden.

“I think asking Biden to step down with no solution whatsoever does a disservice to the issue at hand here. And that is making sure that we don’t allow 45 back in office.”

Donald Trump is a threat to our democracy.

Every voter we spoke with named concerns about the future of democracy in their choice to stand by President Biden.

“Our country is more divided than we were in the ’60s, where we have an ex-president who supports white supremacy, who supports an insurrection of the Capitol, who supports suggesting that, elections are illegal, corrupt, no good, and [he’s] not willing to tell the truth,” says Whitlock. 

“We are going to see, if he’s elected, the repeal of civil rights gains, women’s rights. And clearly, it is not the direction our country needs to go in.”

For Quentin James, this stark threat means many Black voters are choosing to be practical with their vote choice.

“I think a lot of Black voters, it really isn’t about can he do the job. This is really about we need to also beat Donald Trump in November. And the only person who’s ever beat him in a presidential election is Joe Biden,” James says.

“I understand that the choice may look or does look bleak, but I feel like us not voting is a vote for the party who I think does not need to be in office,” says Durham. “So I think it is a call to that: not walk, but run to the polls. And even get more involved in local, you know, local elections.

“When it comes to November,” she says, “I think we all need to show up in droves because you can’t go… You can’t go anymore backwards.”

Natasha S. Alford
Credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Natasha S. Alford is VP of Digital Content and a Senior Correspondent at theGrio. An award-winning journalist, producer, and TV personality, Alford is the author of the book “American Negra: A Memoir” (Harper Collins) and writes frequently on issues related to politics, policy, and identities. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @natashasalford.

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