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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Israel niggle in Biden win: Message from voters in Michigan victory

Former President Donald J. Trump was also victorious in the Republican primary, coasting past former governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina to continue his undefeated primary streak

Nicholas Nehamas, Reid J. Epstein Washington, Dearborn, Michigan Published 29.02.24, 08:13 AM
Joe Biden

Joe Biden File image

President Biden won Michigan’s Democratic primary election on Tuesday but faced opposition over his support for Israel as it wages war in Gaza, with a substantial number of voters casting ballots for “uncommitted” as part of a protest movement against him.

Former President Donald J. Trump was also victorious in the Republican primary, coasting past former governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina to continue his undefeated primary streak. Final polls closed at 9pm.

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The results demonstrated how both Biden and Trump are confronting enduring weakness within their parties, with meaningful numbers of Democrats and Republicans voting against them even as they race toward a
November rematch.

In the Democratic primary, Biden faced his most significant challenge not from another candidate but from Arab American voters, progressives and young people protesting his support for Israel by choosing the “uncommitted” option on their ballots.

Early results showed that “uncommitted” had already received far more support than the roughly 11,000 votes by which Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Michigan’s 2016 general election — the initial goal publicly set by the protest campaign’s organisers. Biden beat Trump by about 150,000 votes in Michigan in 2020.

By early Wednesday, more than 95,000 voters had chosen “uncommitted”, with nearly 85 per cent of the vote tallied — a figure that showed just how motivated left-leaning Michiganders were to register their disapproval toward Biden.

About 20,000 Democrats voted “uncommitted” in each of the last three Michigan Democratic presidential primaries.

Democrats will pay particular attention to the results in Ann Arbor, a college town where “uncommitted” was receiving nearly a third of the vote. While no battleground state has an Arab American community as large as Michigan’s, several have sizable numbers of student voters, from whom Biden will need a strong turnout to win
in November.

“I want to thank every Michigander who made their voice heard today,” Biden said in a statement that did not mention the “uncommitted” vote or the organised protest of his Gaza policy. “Exercising the right to vote and participating in our democracy is what makes America great.”

Organisers of the “uncommitted” effort were quick to claim victory, even if their overall share of the vote, 14 per cent as of early Wednesday, did not represent an overwhelming symbolic triumph against Biden, who had 80 per cent of the vote.

Layla Elabed — the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan, the group behind the protest vote — told supporters at a primary night watch party that they had sent a clear message to Biden that “Palestinian life is valuable and we demand a permanent cease-fire now”.

The movement aimed to warn Biden that he must change his stance on Gaza or face repercussions in November. The threat was most urgent in Michigan, which was vital to Biden’s 2020 victory and has lately tilted toward Trump in polls, but risked reverberating across the country.

Michigan — thanks to its large Arab American population, college campuses and early primary date — became the electoral focal point of wider Democratic unease with Biden’s support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which local health authorities say has killed over 29,000 Palestinians. Some of his allies feared that if the movement registered serious disapproval against him, it could have lasting effects into the general election, especially if Biden held firm to his position on the conflict.

“It’s not just the Arab American and Muslim community,” Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, a Democrat whose district includes Ann Arbor, said.

New York Times News Service

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