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Biden campaigns in South Carolina, tries to win back Black voters

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

President Biden is back in South Carolina this weekend. It was the state that turned around his struggling campaign four years ago. This time around, South Carolina is holding the first official Democratic primary in the nation this coming Saturday. Biden's the clear favorite, but he's facing a much tougher fight against the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, in the fall. So the president made a stop last night at a dinner held by the state Democratic Party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I wouldn't be here without the Democratic voters of South Carolina, and that's a fact. So I want to start with a very simple message from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

RASCOE: One of the dinner guests was Margie Bright Matthews, a South Carolina state senator who represents an area west of Charleston. We talked to her earlier in the week and asked her why Biden is visiting the state.

MARGIE BRIGHT MATTHEWS: There is a lot of unrest in the Democratic Party, as well as the Republican Party, about both presumptive winners of each party. I'm worried in South Carolina that the message of all the good things Biden has done has not been explained to people loud enough so that they would see the distinct difference in what he brings and what he's done. President Obama was wonderful in articulating every time he accomplished something. He had wonderful press conferences. President Biden, he has a different style. I appreciate it in some regards, but he has put his head down. He's been working. I - it's important that he be here in South Carolina to tell the people about what he's done to lower the cost of their insulin, what he's done regarding our infrastructure and broadband.

RASCOE: So, you know, clearly you support President Biden. What does he need to say and do to get South Carolina, people in South Carolina, to go out and vote for him?

BRIGHT MATTHEWS: Well, first of all, I think the most important thing that he has to try to say is bring up the gun laws because he needs to articulate a message to our young Black men and minorities, really, what has happened regarding guns. And he needs to articulate that if they do not come out and vote and turn out in masses for him, America is going to be rolled back. He needs to be able to explain what he has done regarding the economy, what he's trying to do to give them a path to buying their own home and creating generational wealth. The older folks who - I believe that they have shown up to vote over and over again - they remember what it was like in the '60s and the '70s. But I think some of the younger parts of our population don't necessarily see that America could lose its true values of democracy under Donald Trump.

RASCOE: Well, what do you think? I mean, a number of national polls have shown that support for Biden has fallen quite a bit among Black voters. What do you think is behind the discontent that some Black voters seem to have when it comes to President Biden?

BRIGHT MATTHEWS: I don't think it's necessarily discontent. I just think it's a factor of not being excited. That's some of what Obama had to face in his second term. Because of some of that nonchalance, I would think, and expecting that he's going to win, they just seemed to not necessarily be excited or concerned about the fact that he could potentially not win.

RASCOE: What do you say to those younger Black people who may say Democrats have taken the votes of Black people for granted and that they have not done enough with the votes that Black people have given them?

BRIGHT MATTHEWS: What I've always said to them is, if you think that is a problem, come in, be active in the Democratic Party and be a part of the solution. And I also say to them, do you think it is better in the Republican Party with their gun laws and with stricter criminal penalties for everything that is a non-white-collar crime? Do you think the Republican Party is your answer? No.

RASCOE: Now let's talk about abortion. Last year, you and four other state senators won the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for blocking an abortion ban in the state legislature. Has Biden been campaigning enough on his support for abortion rights?

BRIGHT MATTHEWS: That's an easy one, Ayesha. Absolutely not. I wish they would talk a whole lot more about this abortion issue. If they make that an issue in this election, the Democrats win. And that's a way you also get those younger voters involved, as well as women from all avenues. I think that's the way you get independents involved, and I wish they would not shy away from that.

RASCOE: That's South Carolina state Senator Margie Bright Matthews. Thank you so much for joining us.

BRIGHT MATTHEWS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.