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Biden wins Michigan primary amid Gaza protests

US President Joe Biden easily won the democratic presidential primary in Michigan, but a protest vote by democrats angry over his support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza exceeded organisers’ expectations.

Donald Trump won the state’s republican presidential primary by a large margin, strengthening his grip on the party’s White House nomination as Nikki Haley, his last remaining rival, came in a distant second.

Although Mr Biden and republican former President Trump had been expected to easily win their separate party primaries, the vote count for both was being closely watched for signs of wavering support.

In Michigan, home to a large Arab-American constituency, democratic voters had been urged to mark their primary ballots as “uncommitted” in protest at Mr Biden’s Gaza policy.

With almost half of democratic votes counted, the number of “uncommitted” voters was more than 58,000, according to Edison Research, far exceeding the target of 10,000 that protest organisers had hoped for.

Many in Michigan’s Arab-American community who backed Mr Biden in 2020 are angry, as are some progressive Democrats, over Mr Biden’s support for Israel’s offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza where tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed.

“Our movement emerged victorious tonight and massively surpassed our expectations. Tens of thousands of Michigan Democrats, many of whom who voted for Mr Biden in 2020, are committed to his re-election due to the war in Gaza,” the Listen to Michigan campaign, which urged people to vote uncommitted, said in a statement.

Voters ‘uncommitted’ to President Joe Biden rally outside of a polling location

Campaign organisers vowed to take what they called their anti-war agenda to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

In a statement, Mr Biden said, “I want to thank every Michigander who made their voice heard today. Exercising the right to vote and participating in our democracy is what makes America great,” he said.

The statement made no mention of Gaza or the “uncommitted” vote.

“Donald Trump is threatening to drag us even further into the past as he pursues revenge and retribution,” Mr Biden said.

Partial returns showed Mr Biden and Mr Trump with solid overall leads. With nearly half the estimated Democratic vote counted, Mr Biden had 80% support, with “uncommitted” getting 13%. With 58% of the estimated Republican vote counted, Mr Trump had 67% support to Nikki Haley’s 27%, Edison Research said.

Michigan routinely offers an “uncommitted” option as a way of questioning whether a named candidate has the support of the party’s base. It could not be determined how many of those votes were protesting Mr Biden’s Gaza policy.

When former president Barack Obama, a democrat, ran for re-election in 2012, he faced about 21,000 “uncommitted” voters in Michigan’s primary that year. Mr Biden faced substantially more.

Michigan is expected to play a decisive role in the head-to-head 5 November US presidential election, a likely rematch between Mr Biden and Mr Trump.

It is a battleground state that could swing toward either party. Mr Biden beat Mr Trump in Michigan by just 2.8 percentage points in the 2020 election.

“We have to win on 5 November, and we’re going to win big, and it’s going to be like nothing that anybody has ever seen. It’s Going to be fantastic. We win Michigan, we win the whole thing,” Mr Trump told supporters in Michigan by phone.

Voters at a polling site in Michigan which is home to a large Arab-American demographic

Nikki Haley to carry on

Michigan turnout for former UN Ambassador Haley, who won nearly 40% of republican votes in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday, was also being scrutinised for signs of vulnerability for Mr Trump among moderates, whose support he would need in a general election.

Despite having lost to Mr Trump in every primary race, Ms Haley has performed well with moderate voters, although she has no clear path to the nomination.

Shortly before Mr Trump was announced as the winner in Michigan, Ms Haley vowed to carry on.

“We’ve only seen a handful of states vote,” Ms Haley told CNN. “We’re taking this one state one day at a time.”

Earlier, Mr Biden said Israel had agreed to halt military activities in Gaza for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan expected to begin on the evening of 10 March, as Hamas studied a draft for a truce that includes a prisoner-hostage exchange.

Engage Action and Listen to Michigan said before the vote they were aiming for 10% of Michigan’s Democratic primary voters to mark their ballots uncommitted, a symbolically significant 10,000 votes, about equal to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss in Michigan to Mr Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other democrats have warned that if democratic voters abandon Mr Biden, they could hang the swing state and the country back to Mr Trump in November. Mr Biden defeated Mr Trump in the 2020 election.

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