Why over 100,000 Michigan Dems cast ballot for ‘uncommitted’ & what it means? - Hindustan Times
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Over 100,000 Michigan Democrats cast ballot for ‘uncommitted’, send stern message to Biden over his Gaza policy

Reuters |
Feb 28, 2024 09:47 PM IST

About 13.2 percent of Michigan Democrats cast a ballot for "uncommitted" in the nominating contest, following a weeks-long push by activists.

Joe Biden's campaign and top Democratic officials vowed to double down on efforts to win back former supporters after being hit by a much stronger-than-anticipated protest vote in the Michigan primary over the president's support of Israel.

US President Joe Biden (REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden (REUTERS)

About 13.2% of Michigan Democrats cast a ballot for "uncommitted" in the nominating contest, following a weeks-long push by activists, an Edison Research tally showed after 9 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Wednesday. With about 85% of all votes counted, the uncommitted vote was already over 101,000 votes, far higher than expected.

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Turnout for the Democratic primary was also high, at some 900,000 voters overall. About 81% of those votes backed Biden.

As the results were being tallied, a senior Biden campaign official said the team will continue to "make our case in the state - to both uncommitted voters and the entire Michigan constituency. ... The president will continue to work for peace in the Middle East."

Biden's staunch support for Israel during its five-month war with Hamas, which has decimated Gaza, has sparked outrage and a well-organized backlash among progressive Democrats and Arab Americans, with Michigan as their epicenter.

They asked Biden to push for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, condition aid to Israel and for sympathetic Democrats to vote "uncommitted" in the primary to signal that Biden could lose their support in November's general election, aiming for 10,000 votes, a low figure historically.

About 20,000 uncommitted votes were cast in Michigan's 2012 Democratic primary, the last time a Democratic president was up for reelection in the Midwestern state.

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

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'NOT AFRAID OF VOTERS'

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

Michigan Democratic officials vowed to do more to win over voters.

"Tomorrow is the first day of this general election,” Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II told volunteers working on behalf of 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 former President Trump, 77. Trump was formally ordered to pay about $450 million for fraudulently manipulating his net worth by a New York judge this month and faces four unrelated criminal prosecutions, in which he has pleaded not guilty.

Some 35% of Republicans backed former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in the Michigan primary, a potential sign of weakness for Trump as well. Some of her voters have said they won't back Trump in a general election.

If Trump is reelected, he is expected to be a strong supporter of Israel and its right-wing leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The issue is likely to shadow the U.S. presidential election until November, as the death toll in Gaza continues to climb, and the U.S. pushes for billions more aid for Israel, even as American officials push for a temporary ceasefire.

A Reuters/IPSOS poll published 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.

In a statement on Tuesday evening about the results, Biden contrasted himself with Trump on issues like abortion, healthcare and the economy but did not mention Gaza or the war in the Middle East.

Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement on Wednesday that Michigan's primary results "make clear the people of Michigan are ready" to address issues this election could affect, including voting rights, gun violence and reproductive rights. But she did not mention the Middle East.

Organizers of the uncommitted campaign said they'd continue to challenge Democrats.

"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 campaign. "See you there."

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