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Biden wins Michigan primary despite Gaza protest vote

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President Joe Biden is projected to win Michigan’s Democratic presidential primary comfortably, despite a significant protest vote over his stance towards the war in Gaza.

Activists have spent recent weeks urging Democrats to vote “uncommitted”, and tens of thousands chose to do so.

That exceeded many expectations, though the latest CBS News projection suggests Mr Biden won 80% of the vote overall.

He thanked “every Michigander who made their voice heard today”.

The US is an ally of Israel, providing it with billions of dollars in military aid. Earlier this month the US vetoed a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, while proposing a draft of its own, urging a temporary ceasefire.

The US position has angered many, including in Biden’s own party, who want the president to take a stronger stance against Israel’s military campaign.

In a statement that did not reference the protest vote against him, he hailed the achievements of his administration in the state and launched an attack against his rival Donald Trump.

Mr Trump is also projected to easily win Tuesday’s Republican primary in the state, after what he called a “great day”. “We’re going to win big,” he told a campaign celebration event.

Results so far from the primary contests – which the US political parties use to select their presidential candidate – indicate that the two men are on course to face off in November’s general election, in a rematch of 2020.

Michigan is considered a critical swing state, which picked the winning president in the last two contests. It has the largest proportion of Arab-Americans in the country, but Mr Biden’s support for Israel during its military campaign in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza appears to have cost him support among that demographic.

Activists from the group Listen to Michigan hailed the size of the “uncommitted” vote as a victory. People were in tears at the organisation’s watch party as tallies were periodically updated.

Congressman Andy Levin, who supports the “uncommitted” vote, told the crowd: “I take no joy in being here tonight. This moment is a child of necessity because people are dying by the thousands.”

Tuesday does not mark the first time a significant portion of Michiganders opted to cast votes as “uncommitted”. Around 19,000 residents did so in 2020’s primary and more than 21,601 in 2016. In 2008 it was 238,000 – after Barack Obama’s campaign encouraged them to do so, because he chose not to be on the ballot due to party squabbles.

But campaigners in Michigan have been organising for months to send Mr Biden a message of “no ceasefire, no vote” over the war in Gaza.

At Salina Intermediate School in Dearborn – across the railroad tracks from a sprawling Ford factory – the BBC spoke to Hala, 32, who said she voted “uncommitted”.

She did not “want to vote for Genocide Joe”, she explained – alluding to allegations made against the Israeli military during its campaign in Gaza, which Israel strongly denies.

Hala – who declined to share her last name for privacy reasons – said she voted for Mr Biden last time, but was not sure she would do so again when the presidential election came round. “Maybe, if he calls for an immediate ceasefire, but he’s not going to do that,” she said.

Speaking earlier this week, Mr Biden said he hoped there would be a pause in fighting in Gaza by Monday – following reports of some progress in indirect negotiations involving Israeli and Hamas officials.

Other Democrats told the BBC on polling day that they remained supportive of Mr Biden, including Kim Murdough, an office manager at a church in the city of Flint.

“I voted Democrat. I personally don’t have an issue with anything that the administration has done,” she said.

She added that separate concerns about Mr Biden’s age – 81 – were not a deal-breaker for her. “I’d rather have someone in office that forgets a few things than a criminal,” she said, referencing Mr Trump, who faces federal and state criminal charges.

Margaret Won voted for Mr Biden, too. She is mostly happy with the work the president has done, though said he had been blocked in some of his aims by Republicans in Congress.

She said she wished the frontrunner presidential candidates were younger and said if Nikki Haley beat Mr Trump to the Republican nomination, she might get her vote.

Ms Haley, however, is yet to win any primary contest against Mr Trump – a trend that continued on Tuesday.

Like dozens of other states, Michigan has open primary elections – which means Democrats, Republicans and independents were all able to cast votes, though they had to ask for a specific party’s ballot when casting their vote.

The state’s remaining Republican delegates – who must be secured for a candidate to win their party’s nomination – will be formally awarded later at a convention this weekend.

During the present conflict between Israel and Hamas, the “uncommitted” movement gained endorsements from at least 39 state and local elected officials, including congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud.

Ms Tlaib’s sister was the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan campaign, which aimed to score 10,000 “uncommitted” votes – a number that was exceeded many times over.

Samraa Luqman, an activist with the Abandon Biden campaign, said her goal was to “oust somebody from office for having this many lives lost without calling for a ceasefire”.

Another woman, who did not want to be named, told the BBC she had even switched party to Republican over the Middle Eastern conflict.

Senator Gary Peters, from Michigan, told reporters at a meeting arranged by the Biden campaign on Monday that the president understood voters’ concerns about Gaza.

However, the White House has been reluctant to row back its support, sending billions of dollars in military aid to Israel and three times blocking a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Instead the US has called for a pause in fighting and defended Israel’s right to hunt down the Hamas gunmen who killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October. Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza is nearly 30,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-led health ministry.

SOURCE: BBC NEWS