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Democratic campaigners in Georgia are skeptical of Biden's chances in 2024

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden gives the commencement address at Morehouse College tomorrow. Morehouse, of course, is in Georgia, a key state in the 2024 election that he won by a slender margin four years ago. And Democrats there, like many other places, are deeply divided over how Biden is handling the war in Gaza in particular. Many young Black and brown voters say they're frustrated and disappointed with the president's policies. NPR's Asma Khalid recently traveled to Georgia, got a look at how complicated the moment has become.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I wanted to find out how people who helped Biden win Georgia in 2020 are feeling about his reelection bid. So I got together with a group of 11 grassroots organizers at a cafe in the suburbs of Atlanta - many of them progressive, many of them people of color. Some of them spoke about democracy, abortion and voting rights, but the conversation kept turning back to the war in Gaza. These are the kinds of people who four years ago made countless phone calls to turn out voters.

MARISA PYLE: In 2020, I ran statewide turnout campaigns. I worked full time to get Joe Biden elected.

KHALID: That's Marisa Pyle. She's 26.

PYLE: And I don't know how I would vote if the election was held today because I am so scared of a Donald Trump presidency, but I also want to be able to live with myself.

KHALID: She says she feels complicit for the deaths of thousands of civilians in Gaza because U.S. weapons are being used by Israel's military. And that's a sentiment some others shared. Anjali Enjeti who helped mobilize South Asian voters in 2020, says, this is a moral moment unlike anything she has witnessed.

ANJALI ENJETI: We've probably all seen pieces of children's bodies in the past 48 hours on social media. And I think that's a piece that Biden also doesn't understand. We feel responsible.

KHALID: There's a lot of conflicting poll data out there about what, if any, political consequences the Middle East war might have for Biden's reelection bid. What those polls aren't capturing are the complicated conversations on the ground. Even if Gaza is not the most important issue for many young voters, it seems to feed into some of their broader dissatisfaction with the president. Some, like 26-year-old Jamie Turner, feel he's too old and disconnected from their concerns.

JAMIE TURNER: I don't really want to vote for Biden. I don't.

KHALID: The Biden campaign knows it needs to energize its base of Black and young voters. And it's eager for this election to become a clearer choice between Biden and former President Donald Trump. Organizers are not concerned that huge numbers of Democrats will opt for Trump. They're worried that some people might just stay home and not vote at all.

GERALD DURLEY: And that frightens me. So that's why I think it's going to be so critical that nobody not vote - not vote.

KHALID: That's Reverend Gerald Durley. He's in his 80s, and he's focused on making sure Black voters show up this November.

DURLEY: I gave so much a life to - I joined up with Dr. King in 1959, John Lewis. I think about so many of my friends and who really literally gave our life just to have the right to vote.

KHALID: You can't give up on the process, he told some of the skeptics in the room, including some of the young Black organizers. You've got to use your political power, he said, to change what you don't like.

DURLEY: I'm not here to wave a Biden flag. I'm on record of saying cease-fire, humanitarian efforts and release hostages. So I concur. But right now, the political process is that, how do we put the pressure to change a Biden administration? But I mean, just to throw up our hands and say, hey, I'm going to give up...

TURNER: I know you say, oh, let's get them in office and, like, pressure them, but we got them in office, and we pressured them, and nothing happened.

KHALID: That last voice is Jamie Turner again.

DURLEY: Change takes time. Change takes time.

KHALID: How many of you if the election were held today would vote for Joe Biden? One, two - and two out of - we're 11 total here. How many of you would say it's possible he could earn your vote? Pretty much everybody.

I went around the room and asked, what would it take for you to be convinced? Some said they were slightly heartened by Biden's decision earlier this month to pause a shipment of bombs because of his concerns they'd be used to kill civilians and Rafah. Others said they wanted to see more humility, more compassion - and ideally, for Adrian Consonery, an end to this war.

ADRIAN CONSONERY: There is something so unsettling about seeing a child that is no longer breathing. So I just - I need to feel comfortable. That is the only strategy at this stake. That is the only thing that's going to happen right now that's going to make it to where Trump don't get elected, is if you make me comfortable with putting you into power.

KHALID: Many in the room acknowledge Biden has shown he's willing to change a bit, but it's taken many months, and some of them still don't think it's enough.

Asma Khalid, NPR News. 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.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.