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Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest

By AFP - Feb 27,2024 - Last updated at Feb 27,2024

DEARBORN, United States — Voters in Michigan headed to the polls on Tuesday for a US presidential primary expected to be another ticker-tape parade for Republican Donald Trump — but could deliver Democratic leader Joe Biden a bloody nose over the war in Gaza.

Biden, 81, faces no serious opposition to being nominated as the party's nominee.

But as the civilian death toll mounts in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, he has seen support erode 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 state — where Biden's winning margin four years ago was a mere 150,000 votes — want Democrats to vote "uncommitted" to pressure the president to back off from his Israel support and call for an immediate ceasefire.

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

“Seventy-four per cent 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 to Michigan”, she said in a video on social media.

The protest movement, Listen to Michigan, hopes to amass 10,000 uncommitted voters.

That won’t stop Biden’s easy march to the nomination, as his main would-be rival, Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips, polls in single digits.

But a significant number of protest votes could set off alarm bells ahead of the November general election, when Biden cannot afford to lose even a fraction of his coalition in the swing state.

‘Stark numbness’ 


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.

Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of Dearborn, a heavily Arab American suburb of Detroit, said that Tuesday’s vote was about “holding President Biden accountable”.

And Fatima Elzaghir, a 27-year-old nurse told AFP that she wanted her “uncommitted vote” to force Biden to change.

“I think it’s evident that appealing to human empathy does not sway most politicians so maybe wanting to win Michigan will pressure him to ceasefire,” she said.

On the Republican side, Trump has swept the early voting states and Michigan is not 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 at the weekend but has refused to quit, saying she doesn’t believe Trump can defeat Biden.

“We are in a ship with a hole in it. You can either ignore the hole and go down with the ship, or you can acknowledge that we’ve got to look for a life raft,” she told CNN Tuesday morning.

Haley suffered another blow on Sunday when the wealthy Koch family network said it was halting its donations to her campaign.


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