By Jeff Mason
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden takes his pitch for reelection to South Carolina, where Black voters helped propel him to the presidency, on Monday in a visit aimed at shoring up a critical constituency whose support has waned since he took office.
Biden's trip, to the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof gunned down nine Black parishioners in 2015, comes as his campaign sharpens its attacks on Donald Trump, the former president who is the frontrunner for the Republican Party's 2024 nomination.
"The president has continued to underline that we cannot forget the act of racist hate suffered by the Mother Emanuel congregation and that we must continue to stand together against those kind of sentiments as Americans," spokesperson Karine-Jean Pierre told reporters traveling with Biden.
On Friday, Biden portrayed Trump as a threat to democracy in a speech marking the third anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters hoping to overturn the Republican's 2020 election loss.
Recent polling has shown Trump beating Biden, a Democrat, in swing states that will determine who wins the White House this year, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll in December showed a rematch would be close.
Biden's trip to the Southern state comes as some Democrats have raised questions about his reelection strategy in recent months. Some donors have been eager to hear Biden be more candid, or more aggressively target Trump rather than focus on the economy.
Jean-Pierre also criticized Trump for his comments on Saturday describing those jailed in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol as "hostages," and what she called, continuing misinformation and disinformation about that day.
"Jan. 6 was an attack on democracy. We have to continue to call that out," she told reporters traveling with Biden. "It is grotesque to make those types of comparisons."
Representative James Clyburn, a Democrat whose endorsement of Biden helped him win South Carolina in the 2020 primary, said on Sunday he was concerned about Biden's standing with Black voters and frustrated that the president's record had not resonated.
"I have told him what my concerns are," Clyburn told CNN, referring to a meeting with Biden. "I have no problem with the Biden administration and what it has done. My problem is that we have not been able to break through that MAGA wall in order to get to people exactly what this president has done."
MAGA refers to Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. Polls show support for Biden by Black voters has softened.
Former President Barack Obama, who is concerned about Trump's potential to win in 2024, discussed the campaign over lunch with Biden before the Christmas holiday, comparing his 2012 reelection apparatus with Biden's, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
Biden has kept his long-serving senior advisers at the White House, while fellow Democrat Obama dispatched two to his Chicago-based campaign headquarters. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Obama has told allies that Biden's campaign needs to have the power to make decisions without White House clearance.
Obama won reelection in 2012 with 332 electoral votes compared with Republican Mitt Romney, who captured 206 electoral votes. Each state has an allotted number of electoral votes; a candidate must win 270 to prevail.
SOUTH CAROLINA FIRST
Biden's trip comes as Democrats have shifted their primary calendar to put South Carolina first, leapfrogging Iowa's caucus and New Hampshire's traditional first-in-the-country primary vote.
South Carolina has not backed a Democrat for president since 1976, but Democrats believe the state's diverse population better reflects the party's voters.
The campaign is investing earlier than ever to reach voters of color, rather than parachuting in closer to Election Day simply to drive turnout, one campaign adviser told Reuters.
Biden's visit to South Carolina follows a stop there on Saturday by Vice President Kamala Harris, who urged an audience of mostly Black women church leaders, to "roll up" their sleeves ahead of the election. Harris is the first Black Asian woman to serve as U.S. vice president.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Michael Perry)