Rep. Jim Clyburn helped Biden win young Black voters in 2020. This time, they’re not listening. 

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Interviews with students at two historically black colleges in Orangeburg — South Carolina State and Claflin universities — reveal a glaring generation gap: a chasm separating what the students say is important to their lives, and what older officials believe ought to be important.

Biden wants to talk about broadband; the students want to talk about civilian deaths in Gaza.

Democrats tout a road widening project along Interstate 26 in Columbia underwritten by Biden’s infrastructure program; the students are focused on “food deserts” that contribute to diabetes and obesity. 

“In our neighborhoods, we have gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and liquor stores. We don’t have access to the same food,” said Tierra Albert, a 19-year-old sophomore at Claflin. (“I don’t want to vote for either one,” she said of the presidential contest.)

Asked if they believe elected officials are addressing such issues, a chorus of voices filled a campus conference room: “No.”

A memorial to Henry E. Smith, Samuel Hammond Jr and Delano B. Middleton
A memorial to Henry E. Smith, Samuel Hammond Jr and Delano B. Middleton, who were all killed in the Orangeburg Massacre, on the SCSU Campus in Orangeburg, S.C., on Jan. 19.Crush Rush for NBC News

Some of the students objected to what they saw as a transactional mentality underpinning Biden’s case for reelection: Goodies in return for votes.

Christian Nathaniel, an 18-year-old Claflin student, was among those whose home was wired for broadband last year.

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“You’re doing these things as a last-ditch chance to beat Trump and get over it a little bit,” said Nathaniel, who wants to be a doctor and eventually run for elective office. “‘Now you’ve got internet, so hopefully you can give me a vote.'” He said he plans to vote for Biden, albeit reluctantly.

“This is my first time voting and this is very discouraging to the young Black voter,” he said, adding that he is not “confident in either of the choices.”

“We’re picking the lesser of two evils,” Nathaniel said.

‘I appreciate you’

If only young voters knew more about what Biden has done to erase billions in student loan debt, for example, they’d feel differently, the president’s allies contend.

In an interview before the church service, Clyburn summoned one of his security aides, a Black man in his 40s, who described his delight in getting a letter telling him that his and his wife’s student loan debt totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars had been wiped off the books courtesy of Biden’s forgiveness program.

More of those letters will be going out before the election. At a fundraising event in Columbia on Saturday, Biden said that 25,000 people a month would be getting letters from him saying they’d be getting relief from student loans.

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