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Wednesday, 24 April 2024
Biden primary win in Michigan overshadowed by Gaza protest vote

Biden primary win in Michigan overshadowed by Gaza protest vote

International Desk

US President Joe Biden cruised to an easy victory in Michigan's presidential primary on Tuesday -- but was bracing for a substantial rebuke from an Arab American-led protest over his handling of the war in Gaza.

There was little suspense over the outcome for both parties, with Biden almost unopposed in the Democratic nominating contest and Donald Trump declared the early victor in a two-part Republican vote that doesn't even conclude until the weekend.

But after polling stations closed Tuesday evening, counties were initially reporting 16 percent of Democrats in the key battleground voting for "uncommitted" rather than Biden, part of a push to persuade the president to back off from his support of Israel.

That figure has been under two percent in the last two election cycles and 11 percent the last time a sitting Democratic president sought reelection -- when Barack Obama won in 2012.

The mounting civilian death toll in the Israel-Hamas conflict has weakened Biden's standing among Muslims and Arab Americans, a bloc crucial to his narrow 2020 victory in Michigan over Trump.

The midwestern state has the largest proportion of residents who identify as being of Middle Eastern or North African descent in the country, with most of the population concentrated around Detroit.

Activists in the key battleground had asked Democrats to vote "uncommitted" to censure the president over US military funding for Israel, and to push a call for an immediate ceasefire.

"I was proud today to walk in and pull a Democratic ballot and vote 'uncommitted,'" said Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in Congress.

"When 74 percent of Democrats in Michigan support a ceasefire, yet President Biden is not hearing us, this is the way we can use our democracy to say, 'Listen -- listen to Michigan.'"

As of Tuesday evening the "Listen to Michigan" movement looked set to comfortably surpass its goal of rallying 10,000 uncommitted voters to its cause.

In the last three election cycles, some 20,000 voters have ticked "uncommitted" in the state's Democratic primary, but that number was already at 19,000 soon after polls closed.

The protest never threatened Biden's easy march to the nomination, as his sole challenger, Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips, had won just 2.7 percent support when voting ended at 9:00 pm (0200 GMT).

But the significant number of "uncommitted" votes could set off alarm bells ahead of the November general election, when Biden cannot afford to see his coalition eroded in the swing state.

The war started when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

But concern has mounted amid the high civilian death toll in Israel's retaliatory campaign, now at almost 30,000, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

- Easy sweep for Trump -

A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population.

The US Census Bureau estimates the statewide population claiming Middle Eastern or North African descent at 310,000, although the Arab American Institute says that figure is likely a significant undercount.

The organization estimates a nationwide Arab American population of 3.7 million and says the vast majority -- more than 80 percent -- are US citizens with the right to vote.

On the Republican side, CNN and NBC projected Trump's victory within seconds of the polls closing.

The former president has swept the early voting states and Michigan was never expected to interrupt his march to the nomination.

His sole remaining challenger, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, lost her home state of South Carolina to Trump over the weekend but has refused to quit, saying she doesn't believe the former president can defeat Biden.

Although both parties held votes on Tuesday, Republicans have adopted a complex hybrid system that wraps up the contest on Saturday via caucus-style gatherings in each of the state's 13 congressional districts.

More than two-thirds of Michigan's Republican delegates -- the individuals appointed to back candidates at the party's official summer nominating convention -- will be awarded at the weekend.

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