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‘Uncommitted’ Campaign in Michigan Shatters Expectations Against Biden

Leah Millis/Reuters
Leah Millis/Reuters

President Joe Biden easily won Michigan’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday night. That part was never in question.

What was in question, however, was how many voters would register their discontent with Biden’s Israel policies by voting “uncommitted.”

When the final results came in, it was clear the effort to send Biden a message worked. In fact, when all the votes are tallied, the campaign in Michigan to get Democrats to vote “uncommitted” might even send former President Donald Trump a message.

Dems Bet a Vote Against Biden in Michigan Now Will Move Him on Israel and Save Him Later

The “uncommitted” campaign said it hoped to get 10,000 votes in the Michigan primary. That threshold was so easily cleared Tuesday that “uncommitted” looked like it would get 10,000 votes in the Republican primary alone, garnering more than 33,000 votes among GOP primarygoers.

In the Democratic primary, the message was far stronger.

The “uncommitted” movement eventually surpassed 100,000 votes in the Democratic primary—a clear rebuke of the president’s unconditional support for Israel and a major sign of trouble for Biden in a state that was decided by less than 11,000 votes in 2016.

The so-called Listen to Michigan campaign was led by—and targeted toward—Muslim, Arab-American, young, and progressive voters who have grown disillusioned with Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza. Perhaps no state was a more fitting venue for this challenge than Michigan, which is home to the largest Arab-American population in the United States.

With a recent EPIC-MRA statewide poll showing that over half of Michigan voters support a ceasefire in Gaza, the “uncommitted” effort was as much about registering discontent with the president as it was about spelling out the political peril for Biden if the status quo on Gaza continues.

Listen to Michigan leaders—Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s sister Layla Elabed, and former Rep. Tlaib staffer Abbas Alawieh—have called on Biden to support a “lasting ceasefire” and “stop funding” military aid to Israel.

The campaign attracted powerful and high-profile backers, with Tlaib herself chief among them. Tlaib is the only Palestinian-American in Congress and her district covers Dearborn, Michigan, where over half the population is of Middle Eastern and North African descent. (Former Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) and the Sen. Bernie Sanders-backed group “Our Revolution” also supported the cause.)

Late Tuesday night, Levin went on CNN and called the “uncommitted” results “historic.”

“It’s a very, very significant outcome. I don’t take any joy in it,” Levin said.

The former lawmaker previously told The Daily Beast he thought the success of the “uncommitted” movement was the best way to send a message to Biden about his Israel policies.

“I think that message is being effectively communicated tonight,” Levin said.

“I don’t see how we can win the White House again without winning Michigan, and I don’t think we can win Michigan unless the president changes course on Gaza,” he added.

Minutes after Levin appeared on CNN, the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan—Elabed—also did an interview with the news channel where she called the results “overwhelming.”

But Elabed was careful to note that “uncommitted” voters weren’t going to be a “monolith” in November, that there would be plenty of voters who will get behind Biden in the general election.

She also raised the prospect that there would be some “uncommitted” voters who never find their way back.

“Voters are going to vote their conscience,” Elabed said. “And I don’t know if voters will be able to pull their support behind a president that is complicit in a genocide.”

That prospect was clearly weighing on other progressives, as Democrats suggested that the Michigan results shouldn’t be ignored.

Chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told CNN’s Manu Raju Tuesday night that the results were a clear warning sign to Biden.

“The war on Gaza is a deep moral issue and the lack of attention and empathy for this perspective from the administration is breaking apart the fragile coalition we built to elect Joe Biden in 2020,” she said.

While the Listen to Michigan campaign easily cleared its 10,000-vote goal, it’s still unknown how seriously Biden will take the message. In 2012, when then-President Barack Obama was running unopposed, over 20,000 people voted “uncommitted” in the Michigan primary, representing over 10 percent of the vote. He went on to easily win Michigan and a second term in November.

But there are signs that Biden’s electoral problems run much deeper than the problems of his former runningmate.

A number of recent Michigan polls have shown Trump winning a rematch against Biden, prompting Biden’s allies to warn that such a key state—with its 16 electoral college votes—should be handled with care. While Biden won Michigan in 2020 by about 150,000 votes, the state is a key flip opportunity for Trump in 2024.

Biden Says Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Deal is Just Days Away

The “uncommitted” effort shattered the modest expectations the movement set for itself, and perhaps showed new consternation with Biden’s stubborn Israel policies. (In the New Hampshire primary in January, about 1,500 Democratic voters wrote in “cease-fire” after a loosely organized activist campaign pushed the idea. Meanwhile, more than 79,000 voters wrote-in Biden, who was not officially competing in the unsanctioned contest.)

While Listen to Michigan was a far more coordinated effort, with leaders spending $200,000 to advertise and organize the campaign, it’s clear the group’s goal is picking up momentum. And Biden may be getting the message.

On the eve of the primary, Biden told reporters that an Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal could come as early as next week. And according to Biden ally Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), that message from Biden was no coincidence, .

“This is happening because the president is hearing that a large part of his coalition wants this war to end,” Khanna told Politico ahead of the primary.

This story has been updated with final results and comments from Andy Levin, Layla Elabed, and Pramila Jayapal.

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