Michigan’s ‘uncommitted’ vote raises questions for Biden campaign


The rebellion that President Joe Biden faced among Arab Americans, progressives and young voters on his way to winning Michigan’s Democratic primary is raising questions for his campaign as it looks ahead to Super Tuesday and beyond.

Biden easily won Tuesday’s primary, as expected, yet received a sobering warning from voters who cast “uncommitted” ballots to protest his support for Israel in its war in Gaza. With more than 98% of votes counted, there were more than 100,000 “uncommitted” votes cast – well above the 10,000-vote goal set by leaders behind the movement. That is more than 13% of the total votes cast.

“Count Michigan uncommitted for funding of war and genocide in Gaza,” said Layla Elabed, campaign manager for “Listen to Michigan,” which organized the uncommitted drive and is pushing for Biden to call for an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East.

Many of the people who selected “uncommitted” voted for Biden in 2020 but aren’t backing his re-election because of the war in Gaza, Elabed said. They don’t want another Donald Trump presidency, she said, but “we cannot afford to pay the bill for disregarding Palestinian lives should it come due in November.”

The progressive group Our Revolution said the “uncommitted” vote in Michigan sent a resounding message to Biden: “Change course now on Gaza or risk alienating key voter blocs needed to defeat Trump in November.”

“In order for Democrats to defeat Donald Trump in November, Biden must realign with his voter base and listen to the diverse, progressive voices urging him to change course in Gaza,” said the group’s executive director, Joseph Geevarghese. “And until he does, we will continue showing up, speaking out and activating Our Revolution’s eight million grassroots members across the country to use their ballot to demand change.”

More: Arab Americans feel ‘a bone-deep sense of betrayal.’ And they want Joe Biden defeated in 2024

The large number of “uncommitted” ballots in Michigan shows Biden’s vulnerability in a swing state that could play a pivotal role in November. Biden defeated Trump by just 154,000 votes in 2020.

“Uncommitted” ballots on Tuesday far exceeded the 10,704 votes by which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election in 2016 and the roughly 11% — or 20,833 votes — who chose “uncommitted” over then-President Barack Obama in the 2012 Michigan primary.

“It’s clear that Biden has a problem with his base in Michigan as veteran Michigan Democrats have been telling the White House for weeks,” said William Galston, chairman of the governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

Without exit polls, it’s hard to know how much of the “uncommitted” vote was a protest against Biden’s support of Israel and how much of it reflected other concerns, such as Biden’s age, Galston said.

Still, he said, “these results will increase pressure on the White House to get at least a temporary cease-fire as soon as possible.

Biden issued a statement late Tuesday night that did not address the “uncommitted” vote but instead highlighted his administration’s accomplishments and focused on a possible rematch with Trump, who Biden said threatens “to drag us even further into the past as he pursues revenge and retribution.”

“This fight for our freedoms, for working families, and for Democracy is going to take all of us coming together,” Biden said. “I know that we will.”

More: Biden says US is working on new hostage deal that would pause fighting in Gaza for 6 weeks

The Biden campaign had anticipated a strong showing of “uncommitted” voters and had been working to contain the damage. Biden dispatched his senior advisers two weeks ago to Dearborn, Michigan, for a series of meetings with Arab Americans. Dearborn has the highest percentage of Arab Americans in the country.

During those meetings, the Biden advisers apologized privately for the way administration has handled the war in Gaza and for how it has talked publicly about Palestinians during the deadly conflict with Israel.

Biden also has shifted his tone when discussing the war, condemning Israel’s response as “over the top” and saying he hopes a cease-fire could come before the end of this weekend.

But a majority of Dearborn voters still chose “uncommitted” over Biden on Tuesday. With 47 of the city’s 48 precincts reporting results, the “uncommitted” vote was 56% while Biden had received 40%, according to results posted on the city clerk’s website. Biden won Dearborn in November 2020.

The number of “uncommitted” voters in Michigan shows that Biden has problems with his base heading into next week’s Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, when voters in 16 states will hold elections.

The strong “uncommitted” showing in Michigan could embolden similar campaigns in other states. A national movement called “Abandon Biden” is active in Michigan and several other states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin and Florida.

More: Biden is getting squeezed over Israel-Hamas war. Will it cost him the White House?

Similar efforts are underway with more key constituencies for Biden. A campaign led by Armenian American activists is also encouraging voters to choose “uncommitted” at the polls. The effort aims to send a message that the administration should stop sending military aid to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has been locked for decades in a conflict with Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous, ethnic Armenian region inside the borders of Azerbaijan. Tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced, and severe food shortages have plagued the region because Azerbaijan has blocked the road that connects the region with Armenia.

Biden, who has made human rights a touchstone of his presidency, has infuriated many Armenian Americans by waiving part of a federal law that bans foreign aid to Azerbaijan. Advocacy groups want him to call for an immediate end to the blockade and apply pressure on Azerbaijan through sanctions.

“We really feel like he broke faith with our community,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America. “Our thought is that type of complicity should have consequences.”

Armenian American leaders have been working with charitable groups, women’s organizations and others to spread the word about the “uncommitted” campaign.  Armenians make up about 13% of the population in Michigan, 7% in Pennsylvania and 6% in Wisconsin. All three are expected to be swing states in November, so aligning with Arab Americans behind the “uncommitted” movement could give Armenian Americans more clout than they’ve had in past elections, Hamparian said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said that while much of the focus in Michigan was on Arab Americans, “it’s not just the Arab American Muslim community” that has concerns.

Young people want to be heard, as do women and groups concerned about issues such as the environment and border security, she said during an appearance on CNN.

Biden needs to sit down with the community, Dingell said, “but we’ve got to turn out our vote.”

The candidate that wins in November will be the one who turns out the vote, she said.

Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @mcollinsNEWS.

Contributing: Clara Hendrickson and Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press.


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