Biden wins Michigan primary but faces Gaza protest vote

Nandita Bose and Tim Reid |

Joe Biden and Donald Trump have easily won their separate party primaries in Michigan.
Joe Biden and Donald Trump have easily won their separate party primaries in Michigan.

US President Joe Biden has easily won the Democratic presidential primary in Michigan but a protest vote by Democrats angry over his support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza exceeded organisers’ expectations.

Donald Trump won the state’s Republican presidential primary by a large margin, strengthening his grip on the party’s White House nomination as Nikki Haley, his last remaining rival, came in a distant second.

Although Biden and Republican former president Trump had been expected to easily win their separate party primaries, the vote count for both was being closely watched for signs of wavering support.

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

Early returns showed the number of “uncommitted” voters had approached 40,000 after 31 per cent of Democratic ballots were counted, according to Edison Research.

A "Vote Uncommitted" sign at a voting station in Dearborn, Michigan
The number of “uncommitted” voters in the Democratic primary far exceeded what organisers had hoped. (AP PHOTO)

That figure far exceeded the 10,000 target for uncommitted voters that protest organisers had been hoping for.

Many in Michigan’s Arab American community who backed Biden in 2020 are angry, as are some progressive Democrats, over Biden’s support for Israel’s offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza where tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed.

“Our movement emerged victorious tonight and massively surpassed our expectations. Tens of thousands of Michigan Democrats, many of whom who voted for Biden in 2020, are uncommitted to his re-election due to the war in Gaza,” the Listen to Michigan campaign, which urged people to vote uncommitted, said in a statement.

Campaign organisers vowed to take what they called their anti-war agenda to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

Michigan pollster Bernie Porn said it remained to be seen how big of an issue the Middle East would be for Biden in November when the situation could look different.

In a statement late on Tuesday, Biden said: “I want to thank every Michigander who made their voice heard today. Exercising the right to vote and participating in our democracy is what makes America great.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump
Donald Trump won the state’s Republican presidential primary by a large margin. (AP PHOTO)

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

Early returns showed Biden and Trump with solid overall leads.

With 31 per cent of the estimated Democratic vote counted, Biden had 80 per cent support, with “uncommitted” getting 14 per cent.

With 32 per cent of the estimated Republican vote counted, Trump had 67 per cent support to Haley’s 28 per cent, Edison Research said.

Michigan is expected to play a decisive role in the head-to-head November 5 US presidential election, a likely rematch between Biden and Trump.

It is a battleground state that could swing toward either party. Biden beat Trump in Michigan by just 2.8 percentage points in the 2020 election.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has vowed to carry on despite her losses. (AP PHOTO)

“We have to win on November 5, and we’re going to win big, and it’s going to be like nothing that anybody has ever seen. It’s going to be fantastic. We win Michigan, we win the whole thing,” Trump told supporters in Michigan by phone.

Michigan turnout for former UN ambassador Haley, who won nearly 40 per cent of Republican votes in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday, was also being scrutinised for signs of vulnerability for Trump among moderates, whose support he would need in a general election.

Despite having lost to Trump in every primary race, Haley has performed well with moderate voters, although she has no clear path to the nomination.

On Tuesday, shortly before Trump was projected the winner in Michigan, Haley vowed to carry on.

“We’ve only seen a handful of states vote,” Haley told CNN.

“We’re taking this one state one day at a time.”