(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden told party loyalists in Georgia that they’re critical to his reelection, signaling the state’s importance as he steps up efforts to reach Black voters.

“Georgia is the reason I’m president of the United States,” Biden said at a campaign reception Saturday in Atlanta. “Our freedoms and democracy are at stake in the literal sense, not in hyperbole: It’s real. That’s why I need you so badly.”

Biden’s weekend trip to Georgia, a state he won by fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020, includes a commencement address on Sunday at Morehouse College, a historically Black school whose alumni include civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

While overwhelming support from Black voters was key to Biden’s victory in 2020, there’s concern among his supporters and evidence in polls that former President Donald Trump is making inroads. That increases pressure on Biden to connect with Black voters who say he hasn’t delivered enough on promises such as canceling student debt or increasing their prosperity.

“I feel there are people that feel they are not getting their issues heard or represented,” Bernice King, the youngest child of MLK and Coretta Scott King, said in a Bloomberg Television interview this week. “There are people in the Black community who are feeling like not a lot has changed, especially economically.” 

Biden combined his appeals for Democratic Party supporters to turn out in November with jabs at Trump, describing his expected election opponent as “unhinged” and a threat to democracy. Trump was in Dallas on Saturday to address a meeting of the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him for a second term. 

Biden also travels to Detroit on Sunday to visit a Black-owned small business and speak at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People dinner, capping a week that included a White House event celebrating the 1954 Supreme Court ruling to desegregate public schools and a meeting with Black fraternities and sororities.

Campus protests against Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war are adding risk to his bid to repair ties with Black voters. Stephen Benjamin, a senior presidential adviser, met May 10 with a group of Morehouse students and faculty amid concern about Biden’s selection as commencement speaker, in large part due to dissent over his handling of the war in Gaza.

Closer to home, Black unemployment is up almost 1 percentage point over the past year from a record low of 4.8% in April 2023.

Read More: Biden Risks Losing Significant Share of Black Vote, King Says  

Black voters make up some 33% of the electorate in Georgia, while Atlanta, the state capital, is home to the second-largest Black population in the US. Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes in 2020, meaning that the state’s 16 Electoral College votes could have gone the other way if less than 1% of Black voters had chosen Trump or stayed home.

Narrower Advantage

Black voters favored Biden over Trump by 63% to 27% in the latest Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll of swing states, which has a 4 percentage-point margin of error. That compares with 92% Black support for Biden in the 2020 election, according to Pew Research Center data.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson suggested he isn’t convinced.

“I believe polls have proven themselves to be untrue for the last four election cycles,” he said at the White House on May 16.

Biden’s principal deputy campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, said there’s “no concern” that the president isn’t connected with Black voters. Any hesitation isn’t a worry “but a fire behind what he has to do,” he said.

Concerted Effort

Trump’s campaign is making a concerted effort to increase appearances before Black audiences, where aides believe his message on inflation and ending US involvement in overseas wars will appeal to Black voters and their frustration on pocketbook issues.

The former president will look to avoid campaign mistakes he made in Georgia four years ago, Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist, said. “They are going to try to tap into some of the Democratic base, particularly Black men,” he said.

Trump’s challenges include his lengthy and contentious history on race dating back to the 1980s Central Park Five case, when he urged New York state to bring back the death penalty to punish five Black and Latino teenagers wrongly accused of assaulting and raping a woman. 

More recently, his comments on race at a dinner in South Carolina caught critics’ attention.

Trump’s Black supporters say voters should watch his actions rather than take what he says literally.

“Some people just have their feelings on high alert, and there is some hypersensitivities that do not need to be there,” said Pastor Darrell Scott, who’s organizing a group called the Garfield Project to promote Trump policies. Biden hasn’t “done anything proactive for the Black community,” he said.

“Every week, Trump had Black people up at the White House,” said Scott. “I know for a fact because I was there.”

--With assistance from Justin Sink and Akayla Gardner.

(Updates to correct attribution to quote in 16th paragraph)

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