Biden wins Michigan primary, but faces backlash over Israel’s war on Gaza

US president and Donald Trump win Michigan but early results show a backlash from some voters over Biden’s Gaza policy.

A volunteer holds a sign asking people to vote uncommitted, instead of for US President Joe Biden, outside of Maples School in Dearborn, Michigan 2024 in the US Presidential primary election in Dearborn, Michigan on February 27, 2024.
A volunteer holds a sign asking people to vote uncommitted, instead of for US President Joe Biden, outside Maples School in Dearborn, Michigan 2024 in the US presidential primary on February 27, 2024 [Jeff Kowalsky/AFP]

United States President Joe Biden has won the Democratic presidential primary in the state of Michigan, according to media projections, but early counts showed he faced noticeable opposition over his support for Israel’s war on Gaza.

In Michigan, which is home to a large Arab-American constituency, Democratic voters had been urged to mark their primary ballots as “uncommitted” on Tuesday in protest of Biden’s Gaza policy.

With 25 percent of the votes counted, Biden had 80 percent support, with “uncommitted” getting 14.5 percent, according to The Associated Press news agency.

The latter amounts to 33,000 ballots so far, a number higher than the goal of 10,000 set by organisers of the protest vote.

Michigan routinely offers an “uncommitted” option as a way of questioning whether a named candidate has the support of the party’s base.

Former US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, won the Republican presidential primary in Michigan by a large margin, according to projections, further strengthening his grip on the party’s White House nomination as Nikki Haley, his last remaining rival, came in a distant second.

With 8 percent of the estimated Republican vote counted, Trump had 64 percent support to Haley’s 32 percent, according to Edison Research.

Michigan is expected to play a decisive role in the head-to-head November presidential election, a likely rematch between Biden and Trump.

It is a battleground state that could swing towards either party.

Biden beat Trump in Michigan by just 2.8 percentage points in the 2020 election.

Many in Michigan’s Arab-American community who backed Biden in 2020 are now outraged, along with some progressive Democrats, over Biden’s support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians.

Both the White House and Biden campaign officials have made trips to Michigan in recent weeks to talk with community leaders about Israel’s war on Gaza and how the US president has approached the conflict, but those leaders, along with organisers of the “uncommitted” effort, have been undeterred.

That push, led by groups such as Listen to Michigan, began in earnest just a few weeks ago and has been backed by officials such as Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in the US Congress, and former Representative Andy Levin.

Listen to Michigan said it was pleased with the early results.

“Our movement emerged victorious tonight and massively surpassed our expectations,” the group said in a statement on X. “Tens of thousands of Michigan Democrats, many of whom… voted for Biden in 2020, are uncommitted to his re-election due to the war in Gaza.”

Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from the city of Dearborn in Michigan, said it was not just Arab Americans who voted “uncommitted”, but also young people.

“Normally, about 20,000 people in a primary election here will vote uncommitted. So far, we have just a little over 20 percent of the vote in and there have been 30,000 votes for uncommitted,” he said.

“They were not aiming to win. To make a difference, all that these Michigan voters have to do is deny Biden the margin of victory. In 2016, Trump won this state by a mere 10,000 votes and four years later, Biden won it by a 154,000. And these voters – who come from a group of about 300,000 Arab American and Muslim Americans in Michigan – believe they have that difference,” Hendren said.

“Many of them are saying they do not want to vote for Donald Trump. But they say if you cannot get Gaza right, they are just not going to support Biden.”

The Biden campaign, in a statement late on Tuesday, thanked “every Michigander who made their voice heard today” but made no mention of Gaza or the “uncommitted” vote.

“Donald Trump is threatening to drag us even further into the past as he pursues revenge and retribution,” Biden said.

The incumbent president has already sailed to wins in primaries in South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire.

As for Trump, he has now swept the first five states on the Republican primary calendar. The former president’s victory over Haley in Michigan comes after he defeated her by 20 percentage points in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday.

So far, Trump has won resounding support from most pockets of the Republican voting base, including evangelical voters, conservatives and those who live in rural areas. But he has underperformed with suburban voters and people with a college degree, and faces a faction within his own party that believes he broke the law in one or more of the criminal cases against him.

Haley has pledged to continue her campaign through at least Super Tuesday on March 5, pointing to a not-insignificant swath of Republican primary voters who have continued to support her despite Trump’s tightening grip on the party.

She also outraised Trump’s primary campaign committee by almost $3m in January.

That indicates that some donors continue to look at Haley, despite her long shot prospects, as an alternative to Trump should his legal problems imperil his chances of becoming the nominee.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies