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Gaza Protest vote shows signs of strength in Michigan

A protest vote by democrats angry over Joe Biden’s support for Israel over Hamas showed signs of potential strength as initial returns were counted in Michigan’s democratic presidential primary.

Mr Biden and republican former President Donald Trump were expected to easily win their separate party primaries. But 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.

Early returns showed Mr Biden and Mr Trump with solid leads. With 7% of the estimated Democratic vote counted, Mr Biden had 80% support, with “uncommitted” getting 15%, and with 6% of the estimated republican vote counted, Mr Trump had 63% support to rival Nikki Haley’s 33%, according to Edison Research.

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

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.

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.

Voting sites begin closing at 8 pm local time (1am Irish time Wednesday) with the final locations closing an hour later.

Many in Michigan’s Arab American community who backed Mr Biden in 2020 are now outraged, along with 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.

But in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, most democrats interviewed said they would stick with Mr Biden despite misgivings about his Israel policy, because of their dislike for Mr Trump or republican policies on abortion rights.

Voters at a polling site in Michigan

Mr Biden earlier 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.

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.

A senior Biden campaign official said: “We’re taking this seriously. The president himself has said repeatedly that he hears these demonstrators and that he thinks that their cause is important.”

On 1 February, Mr Biden won a strong pledge of support from union auto workers, a Michigan voting bloc no less crucial to his re-election bid.

The state is home to nearly 20% of all US auto production, more than any state in the country.

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