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Biden skipped visiting a Black church on his recent Michigan trip, angering some community leaders

SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) — President Joe Biden headed to Michigan last week to boost his support with Black voters and hedge against the growing opposition that the White House's staunch support for Israel has sparked with Muslims in the critical swing state.

But some African American leaders now say they feel alienated after Biden failed to meet with more leading Black community members when visiting Saginaw, the city northwest of Detroit that has become Michigan’s premier political bellwether and where 46% of the residents are Black.

Organizers familiar with the trip plans said that one of several original proposed sites for the president to visit was a Black church. The idea was to find a venue where union workers, Black community leaders, college students and supporters from other key constituencies could head out after the event and knock on doors for Biden.

The president ultimately went to the front porch of two local leaders, who are both white, then met with a Black family at a public golf course.

Hurley Coleman Jr., a prominent Saginaw pastor and staunch Biden supporter whose son and grandson met Biden at the golf course, called the trip a “missed opportunity” for the president's campaign to engage with the community in a way that was “real as opposed to what we saw."

“I can’t escape the reality of what was initially anticipated didn’t happen,” said Coleman Jr. “And what was initially anticipated really needs to happen. And sooner rather than later.”

Any slights could loom large in what is a precarious political moment for Biden, with some allies already concerned about anger in Michigan's sizable Arab American community over Israel's war in Gaza. Biden's support among Black adults has sharply fallen since the start of his presidency and former President Donald Trump's campaign believes it can flip parts of the core Democratic constituency in November's election.

Biden was backed by 91% of Black voters in the 2020 presidential election, according to AP VoteCast, a sweeping survey of the electorate, but his approval rating among Black adults was 58% in a recent latest Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh, who lives in Saginaw, said Black and faith-based leaders “felt like there was an opportunity that was missed for there to be back-and-forth conversation, but also room for it being more inclusive and inviting of the larger base."

Pugh, also a Democrat running for a U.S. House seat in Saginaw's district, added that it was “a slight on the Black American community” especially given that “he was coming to Saginaw and it seemed like it was to meet with the communities of color.”

Biden’s reelection campaign referred questions about the visit to community leaders and attendees of the president’s events as well as to the Michigan Democratic Party. State party chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement, “You can’t get a more fired up or authentic Joe Biden than the one we saw on a porch in Saginaw.”

Dr. Craig Tatum, senior pastor for Saginaw's New Life Baptist Church Ministries, said that his church was initially selected as a potential place for the president to visit, which he called “a great honor."

“I wasn’t necessarily given any reason why things changed," said Tatum, who added that he was fine with the change since “to say the president considered our site was quite an honor itself.”

The city of Saginaw has large numbers of Black and union-affiliated voters and is a Democratic stronghold. But it is encircled by predominantly Republican areas within the larger county and has swung back and forth to support the winning presidential candidate in four-straight elections.

Biden spoke to supporters on the porch of the home of Councilman Bill Ostash and school board leader Kevin Rooker, before meeting with Saginaw resident Hurley Coleman III and his 13-year-old son, Hurley Coleman IV, at a local public golf course.

Brandell Adams, a trustee of a township outside Saginaw, attended the porch event, spoke briefly to, posed for a picture with, Biden and called it a “once in a lifetime experience.” But he also said he’d heard from some in the community who were irked that the president didn’t see more Black leaders.

“Folks seem like they did indeed get their hopes up. It was a smaller crowd, 40, 50 people at most – but I think it was a pretty good blend, age and gender and race, labor leadership, party leadership, activists,” Adams said. “There’s more than 50 people that are influential in Saginaw. So, if I didn’t get the opportunity to be on that porch that day, I may have felt some sort of way as well.”

Coleman III and his son had planned to play golf with Biden but heavy rain the day of the visit forced them to instead meet inside the course's clubhouse. Biden's campaign noted that a TikTok of their meeting indoors has been viewed more than 1 million times.

The executive director of a local nonprofit, Coleman III said that he spoke to Biden about “the needs of a Black man trying to raise his family in this community and I paralleled that with the needs of other Black people and what they need in this community.”

Coleman III said Biden was “very alert and acute to the issues that we’re facing."

"I think they made efforts, but I do believe that it could have been better,” Coleman III said. “I think if they can come back, it would do well to really add the voices that were missed.”