UNITED STATES NEWS

Trump and Biden won Michigan. But ‘uncommitted’ votes demanded attention

Feb 27, 2024, 7:30 PM | Updated: Feb 28, 2024, 12:11 pm

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In this combination of photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J. (AP photo)

(AP photo)

 

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump won the Michigan primaries on Tuesday, further solidifying the all-but-certain rematch between the two men — yet early results from the state were highlighting some of their biggest political vulnerabilities ahead of the November general election.

A vigorous “uncommitted” campaign organized by activists disillusioned with Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza was making headway. It had already far surpassed the 10,000-vote margin by which Trump won Michigan in 2016, a goal set by organizers of this year’s protest effort.

As for Trump, he has now swept the first five states on the Republican primary calendar. But there were early signs that Trump was continuing to struggle with some influential voter blocs who have favored former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in previous contests. Haley’s strongest performance Tuesday night came in areas with college towns like Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, and suburbs around Detroit and Grand Rapids.

For Biden, the notable percentage of “uncommitted” voters could signal weakness with parts of the Democratic base in a state he can hardly afford to lose in November. Trump, meanwhile, has underperformed with suburban voters and people with college degrees, and faces a faction within his own party that believes he broke the law in one or more of the criminal cases against him.

Michigan has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation. More than 310,000 residents are of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry. Nearly half of the Detroit suburb of Dearborn’s roughly 110,000 residents claim Arab ancestry.

Both the White House and Biden campaign officials have made trips to Michigan in recent weeks to talk with community leaders about the Israel-Hamas war and how Biden has approached the conflict, but those leaders have been unpersuaded.

A robust grassroots effort began just a few weeks ago to encourage voters to select “uncommitted” as a way to register objections to the death toll caused by Israel’s offensive. Nearly 30,000 people have died in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to Palestinian health officials.

That push has been backed by officials such as Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman in Congress, and former Rep. Andy Levin.

“Uncommitted” votes were hovering around the 15% mark needed to qualify for delegates statewide. It was too soon to say whether the campaign would collect delegates locally.

In a statement, Biden did not directly acknowledge the “uncommitted” effort. Instead he touted the progress his administration has achieved for Michigan voters, while warning that Trump is “threatening 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.”

Trump won the state by just 11,000 votes in 2016 over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lost the state four years later by nearly 154,000 votes to Biden. Organizers of the “uncommitted” effort wanted to show that they have at least the number of votes that were Trump’s margin of victory in 2016, to demonstrate how influential the bloc can be.

“It is not lost on me that this president has softened his language and begun to recognize Palestinian suffering. But what is not enough is lip service. What we need is a withdrawal of support” for Israel, Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said as votes rolled in Tuesday night.

“Tonight, we will watch the votes tally. But what’s most important is to understand that the White House is listening,” Hammoud said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., a prominent Biden supporter in the state, said the president’s campaign was well aware of its challenges in Michigan ahead of Tuesday night. She stressed that outreach needed to continue to not just the Arab American and Muslim communities, but other coalitions that will be critical for Democrats in November.

“We have to talk to young people,” Dingell said, pointing to Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor is located. “Women who turned out in record numbers last year, and get in the union halls.” Dingell also noted that Trump was underperforming among Republican primary voters, underscoring his general election weaknesses in the critical swing state.

Trump’s victory in Michigan over Haley, his last major primary challenger, after the former president defeated her by 20 percentage points in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday. The Trump campaign is looking to lock up the 1,215 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination sometime in mid-March.

Trump’s dominance of the early states is unparalleled since 1976, when Iowa and New Hampshire began their tradition of holding the first nominating contests. He has won resounding support from most pockets of the Republican voting base, including evangelical voters, conservatives and those who live in rural areas. But Trump has struggled with college-educated voters, losing that bloc in South Carolina to Haley on Saturday night.

Trump did not travel to the state Tuesday night. He instead called into a Michigan GOP election night watch party in Grand Rapids, where he stressed the importance of the state in the general election and said the results Tuesday evening were “far greater than anticipated.”

“We have a very simple task: We have to win on Nov. 5 and we’re going to win big,” Trump said, according to a campaign transcript. “We win Michigan. we win the whole thing.”

But Haley campaign spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said the Michigan results were a “flashing warning sign for Trump in November.”

“Let this serve as another warning sign that what has happened in Michigan will continue to play out across the country. So long as Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, Republicans will keep losing to the socialist left. Our children deserve better.”

Still, even senior figures in the Republican Party who have been skeptical of Trump are increasingly falling in line. South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican who has been critical of the party’s standard-bearer, endorsed Trump for president on Sunday.

Shaher Abdulrab, 35, an engineer from Dearborn, said Tuesday morning that he voted for Trump. Abdulrab said he believes Arab Americans have a lot more in common with Republicans than Democrats.

Abdulrab said he voted four years ago for Biden but believes Trump will win the general election in November partly because of the backing he would get from Arab Americans.

“I’m not voting for Trump because I want Trump. I just don’t want Biden,” Abdulrab said. “He (Biden) didn’t call to stop the war in Gaza.”

Haley has vowed 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 GOP.

She also outraised Trump’s primary campaign committee by almost $3 million in January. That indicates that some donors continue to look at Haley, despite her longshot prospects, as an alternative to Trump should his legal problems imperil his chances of becoming the nominee.

Two of Trump’s political committees raised just $13.8 million in January, according to campaign finance reports released last week, while collectively spending more than they took in. Much of the money spent from Trump’s political committees is the millions of dollars in legal fees to cover his court cases.

With nominal intraparty challengers, Biden has been able to focus on beefing up his cash reserves. The Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee announced last week that it had raised $42 million in contributions during January from 422,000 donors.

The president ended the month with $130 million in cash on hand, which campaign officials said is the highest total ever raised by any Democratic candidate at this point in the presidential cycle.

The Republican Party is also aligning behind Trump as he continued to be besieged with legal problems that will pull him from the campaign trail as the November election nears. He is facing 91 criminal changes across four separate cases, ranging from his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost, to retaining classified documents after his presidency to allegedly arranging secret payoffs to an adult film actor.

His first criminal trial, in the case involving hush money payments to porn actor Stormy Daniels, is scheduled to begin on March 25 in New York.

___

Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

 

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Trump and Biden won Michigan. But ‘uncommitted’ votes demanded attention