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Michigan's 100,000 'Uncommitted' Votes Challenge Biden's Israel Stance

Wednesday, 28 February 2024 04:23 PM EST

President Joe Biden's reelection campaign faces an arduous task uniting his party after Michigan Democrats waged a massive protest vote over his support of Israel's military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

With 95% of the votes counted, Biden won Tuesday's primary with 81%, but 13%, or more than 100,000 people, cast "uncommitted" ballots in a state where a large Arab American community and other progressive Democrats vented their anger at Biden's support of an Israeli offensive in which tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed.

Neither Biden nor Vice President Kamala Harris mentioned Gaza or Israel in their statements on Michigan's results, an omission that drew criticism from organizers of the uncommitted vote effort.

The results showed Biden's "core group of supporters are still behind him," a Biden campaign official said on Wednesday.

"This doesn’t mean we will ignore the Arab American and Muslim American population. We will not. We are not taking anyone for granted," the official said.

The official said the president was working to build lasting peace in the Middle East. "He's not approaching this issue as a politician but as commander-in-chief."

Democrats, overall, support Biden's handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict by 61%, February polling by Harvard-Harris shows.

Just over 101,000 voters cast uncommitted ballots, far more than the 10,000 organizers said they sought and prompting some to speak of plans for a nationwide movement. When Democratic President Barack Obama ran for re-election in 2012, he faced about 21,000 uncommitted voters in Michigan's primary that year.

The votes are enough to send two 'uncommitted' delegates to the Democrats' national convention in August.

"Our delegation plans to hold the Democratic nominee accountable to our community’s anti-war agenda at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago" in August, said Listen to Michigan, one of the groups behind the uncommitted vote.


Biden's early and strident support of Israel and his refusal to condition military aid on not killing innocent people or destroying infrastructure sparked outrage and a well-organized backlash with Michigan as the epicenter.

That anger has grown as deaths climbed in Gaza, famine looms and much of the 2.3 million population became homeless.

Michigan organizers want Biden to push for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and halt aid to Israel. They have signaled they might stay home rather than vote for Biden in November's general election.

The Biden administration has become more critical of Israel over time. The White House in mid-February proposed a temporary ceasefire resolution at the U.N. Security Council and Biden publicly mentioned the idea, but the administration vetoed another measure calling for a permanent ceasefire.

Late on Monday, Biden said Israel had agreed to halt military activities in Gaza for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan expected to begin on the evening of March 10, as Hamas studied a draft for a truce that includes a prisoner-hostage exchange.

Nonetheless, Hamas and Israel appear far apart on a deal.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden remained committed to a hostage deal accompanied by a temporary ceasefire. “The president understands how painful this moment is to many people,” Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday.

Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and captured 253 on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies, triggering Israel's air and ground assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza. Health authorities in the enclave say nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since.

Michigan Democratic officials vowed to do more to win over voters after Tuesday's results.

Biden won Michigan by less than a 3% margin in 2020, and some opinion polls show the likely Republican candidate Donald Trump ahead in a head-to-head matchup in the state this time.

Michigan has some 200,000 Arab American voters, more than Biden's slim 155,000 margin of victory in 2020.

"Tomorrow is the first day of this general election,” Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II told volunteers for Biden as results rolled in on Tuesday night.

“We are not afraid of people participating in democracy. We are not afraid of voters. We are not afraid of people who are ready to speak out in good faith, in good conscience because they have good intentions," he said.

Biden Michigan campaign manager Mike Frosolone told party organizers their efforts would pivot to the general election effort in the state, with door knocking, phone banking and the opening of several offices statewide.

"We know when voters see President Biden and Donald Trump's record side by side, they're going to choose President Biden," he said. He said Biden would lay out this case in his State of the Union address on March 7.

Biden, 81, faces low general approval ratings and concern about his age, as does Trump, 77. If Trump is reelected, he is expected to be a strong supporter of Israel and its right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Tuesday found "extremism" is the top worry for American voters going into the 2024 election, besting the economy or immigration, and that most judge Biden better equipped to deal with the issue.

© 2024 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

President Joe Biden's reelection campaign faces an arduous task uniting his party after Michigan Democrats waged a massive protest vote over his support of Israel's military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.With 95% of the votes counted, Biden won Tuesday's primary with 81%,...
Wednesday, 28 February 2024 04:23 PM
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