Joe Biden's win in Michigan's Democratic primary faces resentment over Gaza

US President Joe Biden comfortably won the Democratic primary in Michigan on Tuesday, despite significant defections from voters in his party angered by his support for Israel's war in Gaza.

Progressive activists and Arab-American leaders urged Michigan Democrats to vote “undecided” instead of endorsing Biden, a warning sign for his expected re-election bid against Donald Trump in a crucial swing state.

Dissension within his own party in Michigan has emerged as one of the biggest political challenges to Biden's campaign in recent weeks, raising fears among some Democrats that he will struggle to coalesce a center-left coalition around his nomination in November.

The backlash over Gaza has thrust foreign policy into the heart of the race for the White House, along with other key issues such as immigration, the economy, the future of American democracy and the character of the candidates.

As of 6 a.m. ET Wednesday, with 98 percent of Democratic votes counted across Michigan, Biden won 81.1 percent, while 13.3 percent chose “undecided.” Long-shot candidates Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson got 2.7 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

In a statement late Tuesday after the vote, Biden did not mention the war in Gaza, but pointed to his economic policies and efforts to protect reproductive rights. “This fight for our freedom, for working families, and for democracy is going to bring us all together. I know we will,” he said.

Separately in Michigan, Trump scored another comfortable victory in the race for the Republican presidential nomination against Nikki Haley, his former US ambassador to the UN, bringing him another step closer to locking down his party's support.

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As of 6 a.m., Trump had 68.2 percent of the Republican vote, while Haley won 26.5 percent — showing that he is facing defections from within his party.

“We win Michigan, we win the whole thing,” Trump said after the primary, referring to the presidential election in November.

Haley vowed to continue her campaign until Super Tuesday, March 5.

The Democratic opposition is a reaction to Biden's continued support for Israel during the conflict in Gaza, where nearly 30,000 people have died, according to Palestinian officials, since Israel declared war on Hamas in response to the militant group's Oct. 7 attack.

“President Biden has funded bombs to fall on family members of people in Michigan,” said Laila Elabed, campaign manager for Listen to Michigan, which is behind the “inconclusive” protest vote. “Thousands of Michigan Democrats who voted for Biden in 2020 now feel completely betrayed.”

Michigan is a battleground state that has been decided by narrow margins in recent election cycles. Biden defeated Trump by just 150,000 votes in 2020, while Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by less than 11,000 votes four years ago.

According to the latest census, more than half of the residents of Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, the state's largest city, are Arab Americans. About 140,000 Arab Americans voted in Michigan in the 2020 presidential election.

Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American member of Congress whose constituency covers much of Dearborn, was among those encouraging Democrats to vote no. Elabed, the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan, is Thleip's sister.

“I'm proud today to pull out a Democratic ballot and cast a non-committal vote,” Tlieb said in a video posted on social media Tuesday. “Even though 74 percent of Michigan Democrats support a ceasefire, President Biden is not listening to us. This is our democracy. Listen, listen.”

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Biden has long been an ardent supporter of Israel. But he has been increasingly critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent weeks, and told reporters on Monday that he hoped a temporary ceasefire would begin in Gaza as soon as next week.

Recent polls have Trump ahead of Biden in a hypothetical contest in Michigan. He has a four-point lead in the state in an Emerson poll released last week.

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Many of Biden's public events in recent weeks have been interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters, and the weekend death of a U.S. airman who set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington made headlines across the country.

Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan up for re-election in 2022, is the co-chair of Biden's re-election campaign and is one of his loudest defenders in the state.

As the results tipped in Tuesday night, Whitmer said he was “proud” of his state's “bred diversity, ideologies and cultures,” but said there was a “stark choice.” “It's time for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to come together and go all-in on November, and we'll continue to talk every day about what's at stake,” he said.

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