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4 things to watch in Michigan’s presidential primary

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4 things to watch in Michigan’s presidential primary

Feb 27, 2024 | 12:42 pm ET
By Kyle Davidson
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4 things to watch in Michigan’s presidential primary
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With polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday is the final day Michiganders can cast their vote in the presidential primary.

As state election workers prepare to tally selections for each party’s preferred presidential candidate, here are four key things to watch.

How uncommitted fares in the Democratic primary

As President Joe Biden continues to face a primary challenger in U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Arab-American and progressive advocacy groups have called on voters to consider another option: uncommitted.

Three candidates are listed on the ballot in Michigan: Biden, Phillips and author Marianne Williamson, even though she suspended her presidential campaign on Feb. 7. Michigan voters also have the option to fill in uncommitted on their ballot, which signals a party vote, but that the voter is not committed to any of the candidates listed on the ballot.

The “Listen to Michigan” campaign is encouraging those opposed to Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas War to fill in uncommitted on their ballot to put pressure on the president to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and has set a goal of 10,000 votes, roughly mimicking the margin of votes by which Trump won Michigan in the 2016 election.

In 2020, 19,106 Democratic voters cast an uncommitted ballot, making up a total of 1.2% of the votes cast. In 2016, 21,601 people voted uncommitted on the Democratic ballot, making up 1.7% of the votes cast. During the 2012 Democratic primary, in which Barack Obama was the only candidate, uncommitted voters made up roughly 10% of the 194,887 votes cast.

“President Biden has been a successful candidate in the past by representing a broad coalition, but right now he’s not representing the vast majority of Democrats who want a ceasefire and an end to his funding of Israel’s war in Gaza,” the effort’s website reads.

U.S Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), former U.S. Sen. Nina Turner (D-Ohio) and former U.S. Reps. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) have each shown support for the push, which has also been backed by the progressive advocacy group Our Revolution, which was spun out of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign.

Sanders has endorsed Biden’s reelection.

A number of Michigan officials from across Southeast Michigan have also signed on in support of the movement including House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck), Reps.Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit), Erin Byrnes (D-Dearborn) and Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn), and Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, a former state representative.

4 things to watch in Michigan’s presidential primary
President Joe Biden speaks about electric vehicle manufacturing during a stop at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Sept. 14, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Although Biden is expected to win on Tuesday, progressive and Arab-American leaders say that a strong showing from uncommitted would signal trouble for Biden winning Michigan in November — and reelection.

While senior aides for the president met with local leaders from Arab-American and Muslim communities in Southeast Michigan, the president has not visited the state since Feb. 1, where he met with members of the United Auto Workers after receiving the union’s endorsement.

Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Grand Rapids as part of a nationwide tour on reproductive rights.

According to The White House press office, Biden is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders on Tuesday to discuss passing additional aid to Israel and Ukraine, as well as averting a government shutdown.

How successful Biden surrogates are at getting out the vote

While Biden is not scheduled to visit the state on the date of the primary, lawmakers and state leaders have been working to drum up support for the incumbent president.

On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist visited three churches in and around Detroit and compared the Biden-Harris administration’s accomplishments for Black Michiganders to those of former President Donald Trump.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Birmingham) traversed Oakland County on Sunday highlighting the stakes the 2024 election holds for abortion rights, the president’s support for unions, and the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to improve infrastructure.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also hosted two phone bank events on Monday in Kentwood and Kalamazoo alongside State Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo), Kalamazoo Democratic Party Chair Justin Mendoza and members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Michigan Education Association.

Whitmer serves as a national co-chair of Biden’s campaign and also provides support through her Fight Like Hell PAC, named after Whitmer’s campaign slogan in support of protecting reproductive rights.

Can Haley gain ground on Trump?

While neither Trump nor former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have announced plans to campaign in Michigan during Election Day, Haley spent the days leading up to the election campaigning within the state.

After failing to secure her home state of South Carolina and losing support from a major campaign backer, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Haley has worked to drum up support in Michigan, stopping in Troy on Sunday and Grand Rapids on Monday.

4 things to watch in Michigan’s presidential primary
Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley addresses guests during a campaign stop at the Nevada Fairgrounds community building on December 18, 2023 in Nevada, Iowa. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Haley lagged the former president in a recent Michigan poll from Emerson College polling and The Hill, with 69% of Republican voters saying they planned to vote for Trump, while 20% said they would vote for Haley.

While Trump said little about Haley during his Feb. 17 rally in Waterford Twp. — focusing instead on his legal troubles, and concerns about global trade, manufacturing and migrants at the southern border — Haley highlighted the division the former president has created within the Republican Party across the nation during her stop in Grand Rapids.

“The biggest takeaway I think coming in after South Carolina is you look at all the early states and Donald Trump, as technically the Republican incumbent, did not win 40% of the vote,” Haley told reporters.

“You can’t win a general election if you don’t acknowledge the 40% of Republicans who are saying we don’t want Donald Trump,” Haley said.

How Michiganders are voting is changing

With Michigan’s new election laws mandating nine days of early voting leading up to the election, more than 1 million Michigan voters had already cast their ballots as of Monday morning, showing a 13% higher pre-Election Day turnout than in the 2020 presidential primary.

More than 78,000 of those voters took advantage of in-person early voting. This is the first statewide election that the option was available.

“It’s inspiring to see Michigan citizens active and engaged in this Presidential Primary. Michigan voters have turned out in record numbers to cast an absentee ballot or to vote at an early voting site for the first time in our state’s history, and many thousands more will vote at the polls tomorrow,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement. “No matter how Michiganders choose to cast their vote in this election, our dedicated local clerks and poll workers will administer a secure process and deliver accurate results.”

While more than 1.4 million Michiganders have requested an absentee ballot for the primary, 934,478 have submitted their ballot to be tabulated.

The Secretary of State’s Office encouraged voters who had not yet returned their ballot to hand deliver it to an official ballot drop box, rather than mailing it. All ballots must be received at clerk’s offices or drop boxes by 8 p.m. on Election Day or they will not be counted.

This story was published earlier by the Michigan Advance, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.