Biden wins Michigan primary but sees eroded support over stance on Gaza

Click to play video: 'Michigan democrats turn back on Biden, question Israel-Hamas stance'
Michigan democrats turn back on Biden, question Israel-Hamas stance
WATCH: Michigan democrats turn back on Biden, question Israel-Hamas stance

U.S. President Joe Biden easily won the Democratic presidential primary in Michigan on Tuesday, but the results also pointed to dwindling support from voters in the critical swing state over the Biden administration’s stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

A protest campaign led by members of Michigan’s large Arab-American diaspora saw about 15 per cent of voters mark their ballots as “uncommitted” rather than for the incumbent president or his longshot primary challengers. That could pose a problem for Biden in November’s presidential election, where he’s expected to once again face former president Donald Trump.

Trump also decisively won the Republican primary in Michigan on Tuesday, earning roughly 65 per cent of the vote, the Associated Press projected. But he continues to face persistent opposition from his former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who earned 30 per cent of ballots cast Tuesday and has vowed to stay in the race until at least next month.

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Biden won the Democratic primary with nearly 80 per cent of the vote, according to the Associated Press.

The president has faced criticism from Arab-Americans and progressive Democrats for continuing to back Israel as it wages a military offensive in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory. The Biden administration has refused growing calls for a ceasefire, saying Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas after the terrorist group’s deadly Oct. 7 assault on Israel, but has been pushing for temporary pauses in the fighting to allow for the entry of humanitarian aid and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Michigan has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the U.S. More than 310,000 residents are of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry.

Eric Suter-Bull holds a Vote Uncommitted sign outside a voting location at Saline Intermediate School for the Michigan primary election in Dearborn, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Michigan is the last major primary state before Super Tuesday and a critical swing state in November’s general election. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya).

The “uncommitted” effort, which began in earnest just a few weeks ago, has been backed by Democratic officials such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, and Abdullah Hammoud, the Muslim mayor of Dearborn, Mich., where more than half the population of 110,000 people claim Arab ancestry.

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Abbas Alawieh, spokesperson for the Listen to Michigan campaign pushing voters to select “uncommitted,” told the Associated Press on Tuesday the effort is a “way for us to vote for a ceasefire, a way for us to vote for peace and a way for us to vote against war.”

Biden narrowly won Michigan by 154,000 votes in the 2020 election, a 2.8-per cent margin over Trump. In 2016, Trump became the first Republican presidential nominee to win the state since 1988, but with a far narrower margin — just 10,700 votes — making the state a critical battleground in November.

Both the White House and Biden campaign officials have made trips to Michigan in recent weeks to talk with community leaders about the Israel-Hamas war and how Biden has approached the conflict, but those leaders, along with organizers of the “uncommitted” effort, have been undeterred. Biden himself has not met directly with those communities ahead of the primary.

In a New York Times editorial this month, Hammoud said he has heard from Dearborn residents who have lost dozens of family members to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and who feel “betrayed” by the Biden administration’s continued support of Israel.

“My greatest fear is that Mr. Biden will not be remembered as the president who saved American democracy in 2020 but rather as the president who sacrificed it for Benjamin Netanyahu in 2024,” he wrote.

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Whether a sizeable number of “uncommitted” voters either vote against Biden or stay home altogether in November will be a key issue as both the Biden and Trump campaigns shift their focus to the general election.

As for Trump, he has now swept the first five states on the Republican primary calendar. But Haley has pointed to her consistent support from a sizeable bloc of Republican voters who are refusing to back Trump even as he solidifies his grip over the party, earning endorsements from members of Congress and across the country.

— with files from the Associated Press

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