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Michigan primary to test Biden and Trump among key voting groups

In World
February 27, 2024

Voters will make their way to the polls in Michigan today, in a presidential primary that will test how much Joe Biden and Donald Trump should be worried about winning key groups of voters for the general election in the critical swing state.

Both face challenges within their respective parties. After underperforming the polls and struggling with suburban and college-educated Republican voters in earlier primaries, Trump’s campaign in Michigan is dealing with a state Republican party whose local leaders have been embroiled in an ugly factional dispute, while Biden faces a campaign by antiwar activists to abandon him over the president’s continued support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

The push by Democratic voters to vote “uncommitted” in today’s primary has picked up steam since organizers launched it in early February, with dozens of local elected officials in greater Detroit publicly endorsing the push.

That effort has the support of Dearborn mayor Abdullah Hammoud, whose Detroit suburb has the largest percentage of Arab Americans of any city in the US. He wrote in a February op-ed in the New York Times that his constituents are “haunted by the images, videos and stories streaming out of Gaza”, and wrote they felt “a visceral sense of betrayal” by Biden’s support for Israel.

The campaign also has support from Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who represents Dearborn in Congress and whose sister is leading the effort, and backing of former Representative Andy Levin, who is Jewish and close to organized labor in the state, and former Representative Beto O’Rourke.

In an interview with the Guardian, Layla Elabed, Tlaib’s sister and campaign director for Listen To Michigan said organizers were hoping for a showing of between 10 – 15,000 uncommitted votes, a mirror of the margin that Hillary Clinton lost the state to Donald Trump in 2016.

“We can use uncommitted to send a clear and powerful message to Joe Biden if we get enough uncommitted votes for a margin of victory,” Elabed, who voted for Biden in 2020, said. “If we’re able to replicate those numbers we can really send a message that he’s at risk of losing Michigan in the general election come November.”

The campaign has quickly evolved from its recent formation in late January into an umbrella organizing group throughout the state, with endorsements from over 40 local and state politicians in Michigan as well as national Democrats like the former Texas congressman and 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Support for Biden has plummeted among Arab American voters as Palestinian deaths in the Gaza strip approach 30,000. The “uncommitted” campaign will need to mobilize those constituents to the polls and in numbers that will send a convincing message to the Biden campaign that they represent a threat in November.

Recent history offers some points of comparison for the ongoing “uncommitted” push in Michigan.

In 2008, when voters in Michigan, frustrated at Barack Obama’s absence on the Democratic primary ballot, launched a similar campaign, nearly 40% who cast their ballot did so for the “uncommitted” option. When Obama ran in 2012 – the last time a Democrat entered the Michigan primary as an incumbent – more than 10% of voters in the primary chose “uncommitted”.

On the Republican side, Trump is expected to win comfortably against former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley – but weaknesses in his coalition that emerged in earlier primaries in South Carolina and New Hampshire could show up again in the key swing state.

If Trump struggles in Kent county in western Michigan, a former Republican bastion that includes Grand Rapids and which flipped to Biden in 2020, and in Oakland county, a more upscale area in suburban Detroit where voters have also shifted away from Trump, that could be particularly telling. Haley made campaign stops in both places in the days ahead of the primary, where she argued that Trump, who won the South Carolina primary by 60% to Haley’s 40, would struggle to pick up support from those voters.

“He’s not gonna get the 40% if he’s going and calling out my supporters and saying they’re barred permanently from Maga,” Haley told a Michigan audience this weekend. “And why should the 40% have to cave to him?”

But Tuesday’s vote won’t be the end of things.

The Michigan GOP, to comply with national party rules on the timing of the primary, will only award 30% of its delegates to the national convention based on Tuesday’s vote. The rest will be awarded at a Saturday convention. The convention itself has been caught up in a chaotic power struggle over who’s the real Michigan GOP chair – but the delegates are expected to be heavily pro-Trump.

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