Trump, Biden roll to Michigan primary election wins, but leave unanswered questions

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Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump won their parties' respective primary elections in Michigan on Tuesday as expected, bringing each closer to what appears to be an inevitable rematch but leaving unanswered, for now, questions about their levels of support in a significant swing state headed into November's general election.

The Associated Press called the elections for both shortly after 9 p.m. Eastern, with the closing of polling places in four counties in the western Upper Peninsula in the Central Time Zone and about an hour after polls closed across the rest of the state, based on statewide surveys and earlier polling results that showed both with wide leads against the competition.

More: 2024 Michigan presidential primary election results

As of 6:15 a.m. Wednesday, with 98.5% of the vote tallied in the Democratic primary, Biden won 81.1%, or 617,728 votes, compared with 13.3%, or 100,960 voters, marking their ballots as "uncommitted" in unofficial results. That was a much higher-than-usual uncommitted vote statewide, though at about 13% of the total it wasn't that much larger than the 11% that voted uncommitted in the 2012 Democratic primary, as former President Barack Obama was running for (and eventually won) reelection.

Still, the total in the 2024 primary clearly put the Biden campaign on notice: Activists in Michigan's large Arab American and Muslim communities as well as progressive groups had been working to get people to decline to select Biden and vote uncommitted as a protest of his refusal to demand an Israeli cease-fire in Gaza.

In the Republican primary, with about 98.6% of the vote counted, Trump led with 68.2%, or 755,909 votes, to 26.5%, or 294,334, for Nikki Haley, Trump's former ambassador to the United Nations and a former South Carolina governor. That, too, raised questions for Trump's strength as he seeks to reclaim a state that helped put him over the top in the 2016 election.

While Biden and Trump had been virtually assured of winning Michigan's primary elections, the final results were expected to provide deeper clues as to how the fall election, long expected to be a replay of 2020's balloting, could shape up for both, with each expected to move forward and capture his party's nomination.

A larger-than-usual uncommitted vote was widely seen as signalling trouble for the incumbent's reelection campaign in the state, despite warnings — including from Gov . Gretchen Whitmer — to Democratic voters that it could weaken Biden and lead to Trump's reelection. Even with the uncommitted vote total surpassing that in most recent Michigan primaries, several groups were downplaying it on Tuesday night, with some groups supportive of Israel suggesting many voters who selected uncommitted may still back the president in November.

But that remains to be seen. On Tuesday, top Democrats split over whether to embrace or reject the strategy of using the uncommitted vote as a way to try to force Biden to change course on his support of Israel.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, a fierce critic of Israeli aggression in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on that country and the only Palestinian American in Congress, posted a video on social media calling for people to vote uncommitted and citing a poll reported on by the Free Press last week. “When 74% of Democrats in Michigan support a cease-fire yet President Biden is not hearing us, this is the way we can use our democracy to say, ‘listen, listen to Michigan,’ ” she said.

Whitmer, who is one of the Biden campaign's national co-chairs, went on NBC to say that while she expects a "sizable" number of uncommitted votes in the Democratic primary, she sees it as a mistake. “At the end of the day, I am advocating that people cast an affirmative vote for Joe Biden because anything other than that makes it more likely we see a second Trump term and that’s bad for all the communities,” she said.

Meanwhile, reporters from across the country descended on Dearborn, the center of Michigan's large Arab American and Muslim communities, to see how the divisive issue of the fighting in Gaza was playing out amid the Democratic primary. As they did, groups, including the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC, were blasting out text messages, urging support for Biden and saying voting uncommitted "only helps Donald Trump and his hateful agenda." Listen to Michigan and Our Revolution, groups backing the uncommitted vote, reached out to their supporters as well, trying to get them to the polls.

It followed weeks of both sides trying to motivate supporters and the Biden administration and campaign sending officials to southeastern Michigan and elsewhere, trying to assuage concerns and let Arab American and Muslim voters know they were listening to them and trying to address the violence in Gaza.

Biden issued a statement Tuesday night after his win, thanking "every Michigander who made their voice heard today." He didn't address the uncommitted vote but targeted Trump, who he said "is threatening to drag us even further into the past as he pursues revenge and retribution."

In Grand Rapids, Billy Mia, 45, said he voted for Biden as he stood outside the Seventh Reformed Church on the city’s west side, calling the current president “the lesser of two evils” between he and Trump. “Trump is a maniac,” he added.

More: Arab Americans sound off on Michigan presidential primary at Dearborn polls

He credited voters who were voting uncommitted for standing by their convictions, though.

In Detroit, 58-year-old Felicia Hogan had a different take on the uncommitted movement, calling it divisive and "ridiculous." She also said she was happy to stick with the incumbent. “I just believe in President Biden. He’s great. He’s been doing great things with the economy,” she said. “He’s like a grandfather and he’s knowledgeable.”

Biden's only remaining competitor in name in Tuesday's primary was U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., who got 20,449 votes or about 2.7%, meaning he would not reach the 15% threshold to receive any delegates. Michigan, however, is a state that would send uncommitted delegates to the nominating convention in Chicago in August depending on how many primary voters selected that option over the president if it broke the 15% mark statewide or in any congressional districts, which was likely.

In all, 117 of Michigan's 140 delegates to next summer's nominating convention were set to be awarded through the primary, with the rest being unbound "super-delegates."

Donald Trump and Joe Biden faced off during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22, 2020.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden faced off during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22, 2020.

Trump bashes Biden, Whitmer, Fain in radio remarks

Meanwhile, Trump had been expected to easily defeat Haley in Michigan, given his strength among the GOP base and the fact that she campaigned little in the state prior to recent days. But she has done better than expected in some states and took note that the 40% of the vote she won over the weekend in South Carolina's Saturday primary still constituted a sizable minority of that state's Republican primary voters, even if some, maybe many, aren't regular GOP backers.

Beating projections in a state like Michigan that will help determine the winner in November's general election could bolster her argument that she, not Trump, is better positioned to beat Biden heading into next week's round of Super Tuesday voting in more than a dozen states. Already on Tuesday, Haley went on CNN to note that a large number of Republican primary voters had picked against the former president.

That said, Trump's eventual nomination with the win in Michigan appears all but inevitable, even if Haley continues a candidacy to at least remind voters that a sizable number of people willing to fill out a Republican primary ballot won't vote for him.

Trump recognized the importance of Michigan as he called into a GOP watch party held in Grand Rapids after he was announced as the winner of the state's Republican primary.

"We have a very simple task: We have to win on November 5, and we're going to win big, and it's going to be like nothing that anybody has ever seen," he said. "It's going to be fantastic. We win Michigan, we win the whole thing."

Many national and battleground state polls in recent months, including those of Michigan, have indicated that Trump has a lead, though in recent weeks some of those have been near or within the margin of error. EPIC-MRA of Lansing, who does polling work for the Free Press, released a poll of 600 Michigan voters last week showing Trump ahead of Biden 45%-41% in a head-to-head matchup, with the margin of error plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Trump won Michigan by two-tenths of a percentage point in 2016 on his way to the White House. Four years later, Biden beat him by about 3 percentage points.

On Tuesday, the former president called in to a conservative radio show on WFDF-AM (910) in metro Detroit to urge voters to go to the polls and to trash Biden, Whitmer and UAW President Shawn Fain, telling host Justin Barclay that Fain “should be ashamed of himself” for accepting a deal with the Detroit automakers that didn’t reverse the move toward making more electric vehicles.

“The autoworkers are all in my camp,” Trump said. As for Whitmer, he called her “a terrible governor who sold you out.” Whitmer chided Trump for the attack on social media.

And many voters went to the polls Tuesday eager to cast their vote for the former president. In Chesaning, in southern Saginaw County, Deb and Bryan Taylor, both retired skilled trade workers from General Motors, went to the township hall to vote for Trump.

“He’s the only one out there who’s going to get this country back on track,” said Deb Taylor, who said she wants Trump to pick up where he left off four years ago, cleaning out “the swamp” in Washington, D.C. and fighting “the deep state."

Haley went into Michigan's GOP primary as the only major competition to Trump, with other rivals — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott among them — having already dropped out. Another, Ryan Binkley, a pastor and businessman from Texas, suspended his campaign on Tuesday.

Trump, appearing on WJR-AM (760) in Detroit on Tuesday, predicted Haley would "lose by like 80 points or something like that tonight."

Several other names were included on the primary ballots, including author Marianne Williamson among the Democrats and, among Republicans, Christie, DeSantis, Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, all having suspended their campaigns after the ballots had been finalized. In order to qualify for any delegates, candidates on the GOP ballot had to receive at least 12.5% of the total.

Michigan's primary was moved up in the nominating calendar by Biden — who flipped the state back in 2020 after Trump won a narrow election in the state in 2016 — and the Democrats, with Whitmer last year signing a bill making it the fourth state to vote behind South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada. But Republican rules prohibited any state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina from holding its nominating contests before March 1 or face losing delegates to the national convention.

As a solution, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is permitting the state Republican Party to approve a resolution at a convention to be held Saturday that will take the results from Tuesday's primary and use them to allocate 16 of its 55 nominating delegates. The rest are to be doled out based on separate conventions also happening that day based on a vote by GOP representatives from each of the state's 13 congressional districts.

The status of that Saturday's state party gathering became somewhat clearer on Tuesday after having been muddled due to ongoing controversy over who is the state party's chairman. A Kent County judge issued a preliminary injunction barring Kristina Karamo, who had been elected as state party chair last year, from referring to herself as such or accessing party bank accounts or postal boxes following a vote to oust her.

A group of state committee members had voted to replace her with former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who was also endorsed for the job by Trump and recognized as chair by the Republican National Committee, but Karamo has maintained the move to oust her was invalid. That had thrown doubt on Saturday's convention, given that Hoekstra had called for it to occur in Grand Rapids, while Karamo planned a separate convention in Detroit.

Given that Michigan's primary elections were all but decided, the state didn't see quite as much political activity as it might have: Biden visited the state in early February, making a stop at a UAW hall in Warren after receiving the union's endorsement. Trump held a rally at an airport hangar in Waterford on Feb. 17.

Contact Todd Spangler: Follow him on Twitter@tsspangler.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Detroit voter Felicia Hogan's position on competition in the Democratic primary.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Trump, Biden win Michigan primary election: What this means