Advertisement

Reactions in these key states to Biden’s State of the Union fall largely along partisan lines

Angela Lang needs to hear and see more but she called President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address a big help to her work: getting Black voters energized and to the polls.

“It was a strong and firm speech,” said Lang, a community activist in Milwaukee. “Now, he needs to back it up and keep the same energy into the November election.”

Priscilla Forsyth, on the other hand, said the president was “very robotic and yelling at us.” Forsyth, an Iowa attorney who caucused for Nikki Haley, ended her take on Biden’s prime-time appeal with this: “This speech just sealed the deal. I am back on the Trump Train.”

Lang and Forsyth are among the voters participating in a CNN project designed to track the 2024 campaign through the eyes and experiences of Americans who live in battleground states or are members of key voting blocs.

Over a dozen of those voters, across seven states, offered their thoughts as the president spoke Thursday night and in emails and texts after.

Their reactions overwhelmingly followed their partisan loyalties. Democrats were quick to praise Biden’s policies, his many critiques of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and the energy and vigor with which he delivered the speech. “The best speech of his presidency,” said Darrell Ann Murphy, a lifelong Democrat and a retiree from Easton, Pennsylvania.

The strong Republicans in our group, however, were unanimous in calling the speech too partisan and said it reinforced their view that a second Trump term would be preferable to giving Biden four more years. “I know Trump loves this country and its people and would be better for us,” said Mickey Brown, an 80-year-old retiree from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The biggest takeaway came from the reviews of voters like Lang: loyal Democrats who have raised important policy and performance issues about the president. On Thursday, these voters saw a president who was listening to their concerns, but they also said that steps in the right direction did not mean the problem was solved.

“Overall, it went as well as it could have for him,” said Jade Gray, 20, a University of Michigan student who recently finished her term as co-president of the school’s College Democrats chapter. She said his criticisms of the Israeli government and his focus on more humanitarian help for Palestinian civilians in Gaza were welcome. But she added: “I do want to make it very clear that I, and many other young people, progressives and Michiganders would like to see a permanent ceasefire.”

Here’s a state-by-state look at some of the responses:

Wisconsin

Lang is the executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities – and when we went door to door with BLOC organizers five months ago, the lack of enthusiasm for Biden among African Americans in Milwaukee was glaring. Some of the concerns Lang raised back then were policy-based, others more a sense of being forgotten and taken for granted.

In Biden’s speech, Lang saw some proof that his team is listening.

“It felt like he was trying to course-correct,” she said. “People want to see that he is still fighting.”

On policy, she was disappointed the president did not offer “more acknowledgement of police accountability and officer involved shootings.” But there was progress in other areas that canvassers hear about when they go door-knocking.

Lang called the president’s proposal for a temporary $400 a month tax credit to help homebuyers a “pleasant surprise.”

“Housing continues to be a big issue not just for Milwaukee but all across the country,” she said. “Glad to see it addressed.”

Davette Baker, a progressive activist from Milwaukee, applauded the president’s focus on reproductive rights and the unfairness of the tax code.

But she said he sounded off-key on the cost of living. “If inflation is so low, why does everything cost so much?” Baker said.

Nevada

Zoila Sanchez is a Realtor who describes herself as a Reagan Republican and no fan of Trump. She is more conservative than Biden but saw things to like in his speech, including his “commitment to democracy.”

Two topics hit home.

“As the mother of twins conceived through IVF, I am so against what Alabama is doing,” she said. Plus “as a Realtor, the credits he announced are amazing. But we do need the construction of more homes in order to keep housing costs down.”

Antonio Munoz owns a restaurant and catering business, following his passion to cook after serving in the military and as a Las Vegas police officer. He leans Republican on issues such as taxes and business regulation but laments the rhetoric from Trump and other Republicans on immigration that he sees as offensive.

“It feels like the president is trying to bring both sides together with border security and immigration,” Munoz said. “But the body language on both sides is sad. Feels too little, too late sometimes.”

Munoz added: “It’s funny how Republicans are upset that Laken Riley was murdered by an immigrant, yet they don’t want to come to the table now to pass a bipartisan bill. We need to unite, not place blame on parties.”

Riley was a nursing student in Georgia who was killed allegedly by an undocumented Venezuelan migrant. While Biden was speaking Thursday about his border policies, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia interrupted the president and appeared to urge him to mention Riley’s name.

Valeria Gurr leaned in when Biden turned to education in his speech but was quickly disappointed. She is a school choice advocate and, while a conservative on most issues, says she would vote for a Democrat who was more committed to her biggest issue.

“Striking to hear President Biden call for free preschool, but not support the right of families like mine to use our own tax dollars for K-12 education,” Gurr said.

Pennsylvania

Our group in Northampton County is composed of older voters who recently shared their insights about aging and whether they see Biden or Trump as too old for the rigors of the presidency.

Murphy, 83, who teaches the tile game mahjong at a local library in Easton, told us last month that she was not worried about Biden’s abilities but that some of her friends were. She saw Thursday’s speech as helpful.

“Strong, determined – he’s the ultimate American,” Murphy said. “He was in his element. Awesome. … Great references to Trump and his destructive policies.”

Larry Malinconico, a 71-year-old geology professor at Lafayette College in Easton, is a Biden fan who, like Murphy, said he worries there is a good slice of voters who don’t see the president as up to the task of four more years.

“Overall, I think it will be a positive for him, at least in the short term,” Malinconico said. But the age concerns Malinconico says he hears from friends and some students clearly shaped his speech assessment.

“I wish the president would use ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’ Getting things done is a team effort, and I think people need to believe he will have a great team around him in a second term,” Malinconico said. “While he was trying to be forceful, he might have slowed down and enunciated a little more.”

Brown, the 80-year-old retiree from Bethlehem, told us last month that his experience caring for a wife with dementia shapes his views of Biden.

“He did not change my mind,” the 1966 West Point graduate said after the speech. “Even if he wins, I don’t think he will be healthy enough to serve out his second term.”

Pat Levin, a 94-year-old Democrat, disagreed with her friend Brown when we visited Northampton County in February and again after watching the president’s big speech.

“Such an inspiration,” she said. “Our first priority must be to preserve our democracy. We must elect a leader who can and will preserve the rights and freedom of women.”

New Hampshire

Pete Burdett is a retired Navy officer who supported Haley in New Hampshire’s leadoff presidential primary but is back in the Trump fold.

“Don’t want my $$ paying another’s mortgage with a $400 per month pay out,” Burdett said. “Don’t buy votes. Cut taxes instead.”

Trump supporter Debbie Katsanos, an accountant, described the speech as “anger-filled” and said, “I’ve got a headache from being yelled at for over the last hour.”

She did hear one thing she liked.

“The part about stopping hidden fees. First I have heard of it,” Katsanos said. “I’ll need to research it to see if it’s true.”

Iowa

Forsyth, the attorney in Sioux City, said Biden’s call for Republicans to pass a bipartisan border security plan rang hollow.

“He has refused to enforce the law,” she said. “He broke the border.”

Like Forsyth, cattle farmer Shannen Ebersole supported Haley in the Iowa caucuses but plans to vote Trump in November, despite her disdain for his confrontational style.

“If inflation is going down, why are prices not decreasing,” Ebersole said.

Her family farm is in Ringgold County, a deep-red area in southern Iowa.

“Frustrating to have so much negativity directed toward his predecessor,” Ebersole said.

South Carolina

Billy Pierce watched at home in Hartsville, South Carolina, and didn’t like anything he heard.

“Angry, anti-Republican badgering,” said Pierce, a Navy veteran and Trump supporter who is retired but does some part-time consulting from a home office.

Michigan

Gray, the University of Michigan student, told us when we first visited in November that many younger voters had a hard time relating to Biden because of his age.

“I think handling the age issue head-on with humor is the best way to go,” she said after the speech. “Biden finished strong with hopes for the future and progress yet to be made.”

Again, her belief is there must be an end to hostilities in Gaza – “a permanent ceasefire” – before the president can begin to heal the damage with voters angered by his handling of the Hamas-Israel conflict. But she did see positive movement in the speech and other recent administration actions.

“Gaza is a tough and deeply emotional subject,” Gray said. “I understand what he said tonight was a very big step.”

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com