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Black voters in Detroit key for Biden, but are they engaged?

Wendy Caldwell-Liddell, left, who helped start Mobilize Detroit, a newly formed grassroots organization, talks to Margaret Roberts about voting in Detroit, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. Both President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are battling for support among Black voters across Michigan, and Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will be in the state on Tuesday, Sept. 22. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DETROIT (AP) — Wendy Caldwell-Liddell is tired of waiting for change in Detroit.

The nation’s largest Black-majority city has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing economic fallout. More than 14,200 COVID-19 cases and 1,500 deaths have been confirmed in the city.

So when the 29-year-old Black mother of two thinks about what’s at stake in the November presidential election, her answer is simple: Everything. She’s determined to help defeat President Donald Trump.

“Trump won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes,” noted Caldwell-Liddell, the co-founder of Mobilize Detroit, a newly formed grassroots organization. “And so, our thought process is, if we can just get an additional 15,000 or 20,000 to show up, that could change Michigan’s trajectory for the presidential election.”

Black voters across Michigan will be pivotal in deciding who will win the battleground state in November. But engaging them at a time of immense uncertainty across the nation because of the pandemic and unrest over the effects of systemic racism has been especially challenging.

“A lot of Black folks are having that experience of getting punched in the gut several times in 2020,” said Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, the first African American in that post. “But I also know that Black folks, Black women in particular, are going to take care of business … Donald Trump is such an existential threat to Black life and Black futures and I think we’re going to show up and make sure that he’s no longer president.”

Both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are battling for support among Black voters across the state. Biden visited Detroit earlier this month, and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will be in Detroit and Flint on Tuesday holding discussions with potential voters.

Trump’s campaign has opened an office on Detroit’s west side in the heart of a neighborhood where local residents say they’ve never seen a Republican presence before.

Trump campaign officials said volunteers have been knocking on doors and doing other field activities across the state.

“Throughout this campaign, Joe Biden has attempted to paint President Trump as someone he’s not in a veiled attempt to hide his own abysmal racist record on Black America,” Trump deputy national press secretary Ken Farnaso said in a statement. “With President Trump in the Oval Office, Black Americans can rest assure that they have a true fighter and advocate working on their behalf.”

But in a city that has always been a Democratic stronghold, Trump’s presence is troubling to local officials who say they want to see Biden’s campaign have a stronger visibility.

“We don’t have any type of engagement in Detroit, and it’s just mind-boggling,” said Nicole Small, a Detroit Charter Commission member. “And now you have, especially young Black voters and people living in poverty, saying, well, what difference is it going to make if we vote for Biden or if we vote for Trump? They’re being dismissed and overlooked by the Democratic Party.”

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib said she’s getting volunteers and staffers ready to knock on doors in the 13th Congressional District, which is largely African American.

“I tell them this is not just about names on the ballot,” Tlaib said. “This is about the issues that matter to us. It’s about getting closer to ending the broken systems that have been so oppressive and painful for so many of our communities of color.”

Biden’s campaign and state Democratic Party officials have said they’re reaching voters through virtual events and making “millions of calls and texts” to voters across Michigan.

They’ve also invested heavily in television, radio and digital ads across the state and are fulfilling orders for several thousands of campaign signs.

The campaign said it has a field team with a strong African American outreach program and a voter protection team focused on engaging communities of color.

In an interview this month with longtime Detroit radio host Mildred Gaddis, Biden noted that Michigan, and its Black voters in Detroit, are “critically important.”

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