Opponents of Biden’s Gaza policy push ‘uncommitted’ vote in Dem primary
Mona Marwari, of Dearborn, calls a voter for the Listen to Michigan uncommitted vote campaign in Detroit, Tuesday. | Paul Sancya/AP

DETROIT—Michigan’s Arab American voters, the largest such group in the U.S., together with a coalition of progressive opponents of Biden’s Mideast policy, are leading a push for a protest vote in today’s presidential primary.

And their campaign to convince voters to cast ballots for “uncommitted” delegates to this year’s Democratic Convention is strong enough that the popular Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been talking to the press about it. She told CNN yesterday that while she believes Biden will win the primary, she expects a significant vote for “uncommitted.” She praised voters who use elections to voice their concerns about issues but said that in November there will be a clear choice between Biden and Trump and she made no secret of her support for Biden.

Organizers of the campaign for “uncommitted” say they are hoping for at least 10,000 votes today. Any amount larger than that will, of course, be of concern to the Biden campaign which cannot afford to lose too many votes in Michigan. In addition, large protest votes in primaries against sitting incumbent presidents have historically spelled trouble for that incumbent.

History tells that story very clearly. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, DFL-Minn., drew 42% of the vote against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 New Hampshire primary as the war in Vietnam was raging. After that protest vote, the sitting incumbent Democratic president, Lyndon B. Johnson, quit the race on March 31, 1968.

And Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., won 38% of the overall vote, 12 primaries, and 1,151 convention delegates against beleaguered incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Carter won 51% of the vote, 26 primaries, and 2,123 delegates—and lost that November to Ronald Reagan.

Another factor giving importance to the “uncommitted” campaign today is the size of Michigan’s Arab-American community. It numbers some 200,000 people.

Michigan primary rules say that if “unaffiliated” gets at least 15% of the vote, it gets a proportional share of the state’s 117 “pledged” delegates. Another 22 are “superdelegates,” automatically unpledged.

The protest campaign targets Biden for his unequivocal U.S. arms aid to the nationalist right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition to prior aid, Biden wants lawmakers to approve another $15 billion in military assistance.

Policy and words don’t match

Biden now calls Israel’s actions “over the top,” but his continued military support for Israel, including weapons used to slaughter the people of Gaza, doesn’t match his critical words. Thus the protest “uncommitted” vote campaign.

The Israeli military continually bombs and shells Gazans with the death tolls and the tolls of starvation and disease rising every day. Israel does so with U.S.-made weapons, shoveling the U.S. money for them into the pockets of the U.S. military-industrial complex which then feeds the Israeli war machine.

Some 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents are refugees, almost 30,000 civilians are dead, and double that number are injured. Disease is rampant and untold numbers of children are soon to die from those illnesses. Gaza’s infrastructure and housing are wrecked. Humanitarian aid trickles through during occasional ceasefires.

So many Arab-Americans in Michigan, who overwhelmingly backed Biden against the racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab misogynist, and white nationalist Republican Donald Trump four years ago, want to send Biden an election message in this primary—by not voting for him.

“What we’re noticing here in Michigan is there is a whole swath of us people who are looking at our president and his handling of the situation in Gaza and thinking, ‘This is not the way.'” Abbas Alawieh, a leader of the group Listen to Michigan, told the Associated Press. The group leads the “uncommitted” vote campaign.

“We’re going to show up to the polls and vote ‘uncommitted’ to send a message to President Biden that, you know, he is on track to hand the presidency” to Trump “unless he takes a different approach,” Alawieh said. “He’s lost votes here in Michigan that he needs to try and win back by taking a different policy approach to the situation in Gaza.”

The “uncommitted” campaign has picked up some prominent political supporters. They include former Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., who is Jewish, a fervent believer in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, and a sharp Netanyahu critic. Others are current Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Congress’s first Palestinian-American and a strong supporter of a ceasefire in the war, former Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, and Detroit Councilwoman Mary Waters.

“I think the great danger for Joe Biden here in the Michigan primary is that he would win with no indication that he has a problem, with no visibility of how angry people are,” Levin told the Detroit Free Press. “Yes, it’s centered in the Arab-American community and in the broader Muslim community, but it’s also a big problem in the African-American community and among young voters and people of color, generally.”

“I’m voting uncommitted,” said Waters. “It’s the right thing to do at this time because we want the killing to stop. For those who don’t believe that it affects us around the world, in particular right here in Michigan, it does. There’s a lot of pain, there’s anger.”

Michigan Republicans are also holding a primary on March 4, a “beauty contest” which Donald Trump is expected to win, even though significant shares of Republican voters—such as 40% in South Carolina—are opting for someone else. The Michigan GOP will choose its national convention delegates in later caucuses…maybe.

The big story among Michigan Republicans is that the party is in a shambles. It’s split into pro-Trump and pro-business factions, each with its own party chair and its own state nominating convention—one in Detroit and the other in Grand Rapids—to name the national delegates. It got swept out of power in the state legislature in 2022, it’s broke, and it’s put its historic building in Lansing up for sale.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.